CDC to announce that fully vaccinated people can drop masks pretty much everywhere except healthcare settings

Walenski CDC US
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky will announce new mask rules Thursday.

  • 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.
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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.

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‘What the hell’s the matter with them?’: Biden scorches GOP lawmakers who didn’t wear masks in secure areas during Capitol riots, saying they need ‘to grow up’

Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden.

  • President-elect Joe Biden on Friday excoriated Republicans who refused to wear masks while huddled with other lawmakers during the Capitol riots, saying they needed “to grow up.”
  • “Quite frankly, it was shocking to see members of the Congress while the Capitol was under siege by a deadly mob of thugs refuse to wear masks while they were in secure locations,” he said.
  • At least three Democratic House members who were in locations with a select number of maskless Republicans have now tested positive for COVID-19, including Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Brad Schneider of Illinois.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday excoriated Republicans who refused to wear masks while huddled with other lawmakers during the Capitol riots, saying they needed “to grow up.”

While speaking about his COVID-19 vaccine plan, Biden ripped into the politicization of mask-wearing that has become a flashpoint across the country and on Capitol Hill.

“Wearing a mask from now until April will save as many as 50,000 lives,” Biden said. “Quite frankly, it was shocking to see members of the Congress while the Capitol was under siege by a deadly mob of thugs refuse to wear masks while they were in secure locations.”

Biden praised Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who represents his home state of Delaware, for passing out masks to members of Congress who were sequestered in a safe area. A now-viral video showed several GOP members laughing and dismissing Blunt Rochester’s efforts.

“I’m so proud of my congresswoman, Lisa Blunt Rochester, trying to hand out masks while people were lying on the floor, huddled up,” he said. “And Republican colleagues refusing to put them on. What the hell’s the matter with them? It’s time to grow up.”

Read More: Mitch McConnell is telling GOP senators their decision on a Trump impeachment trial conviction is a ‘vote of conscience’

During the riots, where five people were killed, including a Capitol Police officer, lawmakers were in secure areas around the complex.

At least three Democratic House members who were in locations with a select number of maskless Republicans have now tested positive for COVID-19, including Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Brad Schneider of Illinois.

Watson Coleman, 75, is a cancer survivor.

This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California set financial penalties for members of Congress who come to the House floor sans mask, imposing a $500 fine for a first offense and $2,500 for a second offense.

Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, implored Americans to take the virus seriously and emphasized his plans to impose a mask mandate on public transit.

“For God’s sake, wear a mask if not for yourself but for your loved ones – for your country,” he said. “These are real matters of life and death.”

Since the pandemic began in the US, roughly 23.5 million people have been infected and over 392,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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