WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — U.S. health officials Tuesday said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers, and those who are unvaccinated can go without a face covering outside in some cases, too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the updated guidance Tuesday in another step on the road back to normal from the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 570,000 people in U.S. For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other.
“Today, I hope, is a day when we can take another step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what you can’t do. Today, I am going to tell you some of the things you can do, if you are fully vaccinated.”
“There’s increasing data that suggests transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors,” Walensky said. She added recent studies point to indoor settings leading to infections in more than 90% of the observed infections.
The CDC guidance says that fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. They also can go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.
But from there, the CDC has differing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.
Unvaccinated people — defined by the CDC as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep using masks at outdoor restaurants.
Fully vaccinated people do not need to cover up in those situations, the CDC says.
“For those who haven’t gotten their vaccination yet, especially if you’re younger, or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated now,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday.
However, everyone should keep wearing masks at crowded outdoor events such as concerts or sporting events, the CDC says.
“In those settings where you have that [crowd] density we really do worry about protecting the unvaccinated people,” Walensky said.
The agency continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, museums and movie theaters.
She added the growing number of vaccinated Americans, declining case rates, and studies about transmission motivated the change in recommendations.
More than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.
About 95.9 million people, or 28.9% of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc/ BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data. 42.5% of the U.S. population or 141 million adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The guidance was unveiled ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden on the state of the pandemic response.
Biden praised his administration’s efforts saying more than 215 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered since he took office nearly 100 days ago. Biden said he still expects his administration to send vaccines to India and other countries amid ongoing discussions over how soon doses could be shipped out even as it sends therapeutics and other equipment to India amid a surge in cases there.
“I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines as well as know how with other countries who are in real need,” Biden said. “That’s the hope and expectation.”
“We’re excited about the progress we’ve made, and the opportunity ahead of us, and because of the vaccination program we built we’re further along than almost anyone predicted,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients in a Monday interview. “It means we’re closer to returning to normal.”
One of Biden’s first actions in office was to increase the federal government’s orders for the vaccines to ensure supply for all Americans by early summer. Now the U.S. is able to turn to sharing some of the supply with the world, as the White House announced Monday it would do with roughly 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in the U.S. but not yet authorized for use there.
At the same time, the White House was instrumental in an agreement reached with drugmaker Sanofi on Monday to help scale up production through next year of Moderna’s two-dose shot, which makes up more than 40 percent of doses administered in the U.S.
Believing most Americans who have yet to get a shot would do so if it were easier, the White House has deployed billions of dollars toward ads encouraging shots, community programs to bring doses to the hardest to reach Americans, and tax credits to encourage employers to give their workers paid time off to get protected.
The Associated Press contributed to this report