Outdoor activities permitted with no face coverings for those fully vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced revised guidelines for wearing masks outdoors, explaining that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask outside unless they are in a large group of people.
According to the new CDC guidance, both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can walk, run and bike outdoors and attend small, outdoor family gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends without wearing masks. Those who are fully vaccinated can also dine outdoors with friends from multiple households unmasked.
“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Tuesday. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do. Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”
The CDC also issued an updated status for mask wearing indoors, explaining different levels of safety for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals participating in indoor events and activities. For various activities, like going to a hair salon, going to the shopping mall and attending an indoor worship service, the CDC labeled these activities as safe for vaccinated individuals who continue to wear a mask.
Unvaccinated individuals, however, are still at risk of contracting the virus while engaging in a range of indoor activities, the CDC explained. Activities like going to an indoor movie theater, attending a full capacity worship service, eating at an indoor restaurant and bar were among the activities labeled safe for those vaccinated but “least safe” for those unvaccinated.
While addressing reporters outside the White House Tuesday, President Joe Biden expressed hope that the revised guidance would spur more people to get their vaccine as soon as possible.
“This is another great reason to go get vaccinated now,” Mr. Biden said. “Yes, vaccines are about saving your life, but also the lives of the people around you. They’re also about helping us get back to closer to normal.”
The revised guidelines come after more than half of all U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and over one third of the population is fully vaccinated.
In Santa Barbara County specifically, 36.1% of the eligible population ages 16 and older is fully vaccinated, according to data from the county’s Public Health Department. That equates to about 29% of the total population.
With the announcement of interim guidance, county Public Health officials are awaiting official direction from the state on how to adopt the revised guidelines locally, but are hopeful the guidance will remind residents of the activities they enjoyed before the pandemic.
“This guidance is encouraging and reminds us all of the activities we can resume once we’re fully vaccinated,” the department said in a statement. “The State has indicated support for this guidance and will align local recommendations to reflect these updates. Santa Barbara County awaits the State’s updated recommendations to officially adopt the guidance locally. This move is a step in the right direction as more of our community is vaccinated.”
While the new guidance is a step forward for vaccinated individuals, Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, said it is important to not take the CDC’s new guidance to mean that masks are not important. According to Dr. Fisk, masks are the “single most important measure we can take short of having effective vaccines.”
“Masking is an important tool in our tool box at slowing down this pandemic,” Dr. Fisk told the News-Press. “As we see new viral variants emerge that may be less responsive to the vaccines that we have available, masking may become even more important in the coming weeks and months than it is right now. My guidance to my patients and my family members would be that if you’re outdoors in a small group, I think it’s reasonable to not be masked particularly if everyone is vaccinated. But indoors, we need to do a better job masking than we have in the last year.”
Though federal officials are hopeful that the new guidance will encourage skeptics to get their shot in the arm, Dr. Fisk said he does not think the revised guidelines will have a significant impact on people wanting to get the vaccine. In his perspective, more people will likely want to receive the vaccine when it’s required to attend certain large-scale events.
“The measures that I think would incentivize people to get the vaccine would be (if it’s) required for engaging in certain activities, such as attending sponsored events, structured events, larger gatherings, travel or perhaps entering the workplace,” Dr. Fisk said. “I think we are seeing some employers and health care settings start to move in the direction of mandating vaccines, and I imagine that someday, that might have a bigger influence on incentivizing people to receive the vaccine.”
While the U.S. continues to race to fully vaccinate a broader population, health officials locally and nationally are facing difficulty when it comes to ensuring that those who receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine return for their second shot.
According to the CDC, those who receive the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose. Those who only receive one shot of the regimen are not fully protected and experience much higher risks of COVID-19 infection and serious illness from the virus if the second shot is not received, Dr. Fisk said.
In Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk said this is a concerning trend that is developing within the community, and vaccine providers are working to contact those who have only received one dose and encourage them to return for a second shot.
As vaccine rates continue to rise in the county, COVID-19 case rates have been trending down in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 28 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death. The individual who died was between the ages of 50 and 69 years old with underlying conditions.
Isla Vista reported the highest number of new cases Tuesday with six new infections, followed by four new cases in Santa Barbara and three new cases in Goleta, Santa Maria and the unincorporated area of Goleta Valley and Gaviota. All other areas reported two or fewer new cases Tuesday.
At Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, 36 acute care beds and 94 ventilators remain available.