To Mask or Not to Mask: CDC Issues New Guidelines on Protective Facial Coverings

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new pandemic guidelines that nearly eliminate mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people. The announcement was met with mixed reaction.

The new guidance says fully vaccinated individuals “can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” The guidance suggests that those who have not received a vaccine should remain masked. 

Businesses across the country were quick to adapt to the new guidelines and allowed shoppers who had been vaccinated to freely browse the aisles without the need for a mask. Several state and local governments were also quick to follow suit. 

The big question that has been on most people's minds is “how do you know who is and who isn’t vaccinated?”

Current CDC data suggests that approximately 37.6% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, about 123 million people. About 47% of the population has received one dose of the vaccines. That percentage is far short of the 60% threshold healthcare experts have suggested was needed to reach herd immunity in the United States.

With the dropping of mask mandates for vaccinated people, healthcare leaders anticipate the potential spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated who choose to forego their masks. 

Emergency physician Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN that she urges businesses to maintain mask mandates to protect their employees. 

“It's particularly an equity issue. We know that Black and Brown folks across the United States who are most often our frontline employees with public facing jobs, are also those who have had the hardest time accessing the vaccines,” Ranney said. 

Over the weekend, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made the rounds on news shows to further explain the CDC’s suggested guideline changes. While the new guideline says immunized individuals can forego their masks, Walensky said vaccinated people who are immuno-compromised should continue to wear their masks in public. And the making guidelines remain the same for those who have not received a vaccine.

“For the unvaccinated, our policy has not changed. We were going to get to a place in this pandemic where vaccinated people were going to be able to take off their mask. We're lucky to be there with the science that we have, and now we have to take this foundational step that is completely based in science and understand what it means as we open the entire country,” Walensky said over the weekend. 

Vaccines are not yet available for children younger than 12. Walensky said schools should continue masking and using current coronavirus prevention strategies for at least the rest of this school year. Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended that until vaccines are available for juveniles under 12, mask mandates are suggested for the fall. 

“The unvaccinated group, or the elementary school children -- nothing has really changed for them,” Fauci said, according to the report. 

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