Explained: The CDC’s new mask guidance for fully vaccinated people

‘If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.’

People go massless on the Atlanta Beltline on Friday, May 14, 2021, after the CDC updated their mask guidelines for COVID-19 vaccinated people. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
People go massless on the Atlanta Beltline on Friday, May 14, 2021, after the CDC updated their mask guidelines for COVID-19 vaccinated people. (AP Photo/Ben Gray) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The latest guidance for fully vaccinated people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a sign that the coronavirus pandemic’s grip is beginning to ease.

Under the new guidance, first released on Thursday, fully vaccinated people can safely resume most activities — including indoor and outdoor — without wearing a face mask.

People are “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving their second dose of a two-dose vaccine, like Moderna or Pfizer, or two weeks after receiving the one-dose vaccine of Johnson and Johnson.

Just over 40% of Texans over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. The number is similar for San Antonio’s Bexar County.

“We have all longed for this moment,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

While the science around fully vaccinated people transmitting the virus is developing, recently published studies found that vaccines significantly reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus, as well as developing symptoms. However, there are some so-called breakthrough cases.

There are exceptions: In some cases, a state, local government, private business, church or school may still have mask requirements in place. In Texas, the statewide mask mandate was lifted in Texas in March.

Many local businesses, along with nationwide chains and City of San Antonio facilities, are starting to tweak their mask guidance. You can find that list here.

A graphic released by the CDC also shows how vaccinated and unvaccinated people should handle different activities. While masks are still recommended for most activities if the person is not vaccinated, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear one.

The CDC's graphic shows how vaccinated and unvaccinated people should go about their daily activities. (KSAT)

According to the guidance, fully vaccinated people can:

  • Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  • Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible

But, even if you’re fully vaccinated, masks are still recommended in certain scenarios, Walensky said. For example, vaccinated people should continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, like doctor’s offices and hospitals.

Medical experts had differing viewpoints on the new guidance.

Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, on Twitter expressed support for the guidance but also worried about states that have slower vaccination rates.

“The risk of this action: COVID-19 immunization rates in my part of the country, TX + South, are still lagging the rest of the nation, so I worry about a 5th wave this summer in the South like last summer,” Hotez wrote.

Former FDA Administrator Dr. Scott Gottlieb said the guidance may actually help drive vaccinations.

“This is going to provide a pretty strong incentive for a lot of people who might have been on the fence about getting vaccinated,” he said on CNBC.

Read more:

Where to get a COVID-19 vaccine in San Antonio

‘Great day for America’: Vaccinated can largely ditch masks

CDC lifts mask guidance for fully vaccinated people — but less than 1/3 of Texans are fully vaccinated


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