- CDC director Rochelle Walensky will announce much looser mask rules for fully vaccinated Americans on Thursday.
- Previously, even vaccinated Americans were advised to wear masks in certain settings, particularly indoors.
- Masks are still advised for people who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The moment we’ve been waiting for is here: fully vaccinated Americans can drop their masks, ease up on distance protocols, and start doing the things they used to before the pandemic.
In a press briefing Thursday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky is expected to announce that anyone who is fully vaccinated can take off their masks indoors and outdoors at gatherings of any size.
The CDC started the gradual “unmasking” of fully vaccinated people in March. First, vaccinated folks were allowed to gather indoors without masks, then they got the OK to take off their masks outside.
Now, people who have received two shots, and waited at least two weeks for them to take effect, are cleared to drop their masks everywhere except for in healthcare settings, according to the CDC. Private companies, such as stores and airlines, will be free to enforce masks as they see fit.
The latest announcement marks the next step in the return to normal, and a huge win for COVID-19 vaccines.
“This announcement is long overdue,” Dr. Leana Wen, former health commissioner of Baltimore, told Insider. “The CDC is at risk for being irrelevant and their advice not trusted. They need to clearly demonstrate the power of the vaccine in preventing infection and illness.”
Universal access to highly effective vaccines made this possible
The move comes a day after a CDC advisory panel green-lit Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, making universal unmasking even more possible.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be highly effective at preventing infections and even better at stopping hospitalizations and deaths.
Even in the rare cases when vaccinated people get infected, studies show they usually have a lower viral load, meaning they’re less likely to transmit the virus and may have a more mild illness.
Don’t throw out your masks just yet
Despite the excitement of unmasking, it’s not time to say goodbye to face coverings for good. Masks are still helpful for protecting yourself and others, especially in indoor settings.
The US is on its way to herd immunity – the point at which enough people will have either gotten COVID-19 or been vaccinated that the coronavirus can no longer spread easily.
But we’re not there yet. As Insider’s Hilary Brueck wrote, we’re entering one of the most precarious moments in the pandemic. New variants are popping up as fast as the country is reopening. While the shots are effective against many known variants, there’s a possibility that the virus could outsmart the vaccines if we move too fast too soon.
Even if a variant doesn’t slip through the cracks, no one knows how long the protection afforded by the vaccines will last. Research on booster shots to extend that immunity is already underway with promising results, but until we know more, you’re going to want to hold onto your mask just in case.
Hilary Brueck, Health Correspondent, contributed reporting.