Agency says fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in most circumstances
Fully vaccinated people can safely go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings, according to updated guidance Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During a press briefing Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters that masks are still needed in a few settings, such as a health care or business setting. But she added that many fully vaccinated people are safe to skip the face covering in most circumstances.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or social distancing,” Dr. Walensky told reporters. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment where we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Dr. Walensky added that unvaccinated folks should continue to wear a face covering because they remain at risk for disease. She also said that the CDC would revise its guidance if COVID-19 cases increase.
The new guidance also requires that people wear masks in crowded indoor areas such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
As of Wednesday, approximately 45.1% of the U.S. adult population are fully vaccinated and 58.7% have received at least one dose, according to CDC data.
This announcement from the CDC comes just a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom hinted at lifting the statewide mask mandate on June 15, the same date he is targeting to dissolve the state’s COVID-19 tier system. Since the CDC announcement Wednesday, the state has not announced updated guidelines on masking.
While the CDC’s announcement spurs hope that normalcy could be around the corner, some local officials are skeptical of the timing of this updated guidance.
Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease expert with Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic, said that while vaccinated people are at a much lower risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19, he disagrees with the timing of the CDC’s new guidance.
“I think that now is the wrong time, in my opinion, to put out there that people who are fully vaccinated can go maskless in all these indoor settings … It will be extremely difficult to practically implement when only about half of our population in the country is vaccinated,” Dr. Fisk told the News-Press. “How is (the announcement) interpreted at the movie theater, or the grocery store? How is that process of verifying who’s vaccinated going to be implemented successfully and fairly and without controversy?”
Dr. Fisk also voiced concerns about the rise of new variants across the country and the impact those new strains will have on case rates.
“The reason why I see a role for masking (indoors) is because breakthrough infections with COVID still happen in some people after vaccination,” Dr. Fisk said. “Transmissions from people who are infected with COVID after vaccination still happen, and the rapid spread of variants that may have decreased level of protection or decreased level of responsiveness to the vaccine are a very real public health threat that we need to guard against.”
During Thursday’s briefing, Dr. Walensky briefly touched on the effectiveness on the vaccines, citing a recent study from the “New England Journal of Medicine” that claim the Pfizer vaccine is 89.5% effective against the U.K. variant and 75% effective against the Brazilian variant, both of which have been found in the U.S.
Dr. Walensky added that additional studies confirm that both the Moderna and Johnon & Johnson vaccines also have high rates of effectiveness against variants.
As of Thursday, 49.5% of the eligible population is vaccinated in Santa Barbara County, which translates to about 39.4% of the entire population.
With more than 60% of the population in the county unvaccinated, Dr. Fisk said he is concerned about the effect the variants could have on the population. He said he expects to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the summer months as both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are starting to mingle more often, and added that he believes people should continue to wear a face covering until herd immunity is achieved.
“I think that the public should be continuing to wear masks in indoor public venues after (getting the) vaccine until you’ve either achieved herd immunity or our transmission rates are negligible and low enough that we’re not expecting to see surges,” Dr. Fisk said.