WASHINGTON (AP/WTNH) — In a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
“Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance.
The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
The CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.
The new guidance is likely to open the door to confusion since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.
In line with the CDC and the president’s guidance, Governor Ned Lamont said Thursday masks will no longer be required indoors in Connecticut for those fully vaccinated. There are some exceptions, however.
Businesses and workplaces will still be able to make their own determination.
“Some people may ask for authentication, to see that you have been vaccinated, some people in crowded areas may say everyone must wear a mask,” Gov. Lamont said. “That is going to be up to the discretion of the businesses.”
And, Dr. Jamie Meyer with Yale Medicine says the science and the data are all there. You can safely take the mask off, first because there’s very little virus in the state, and second the vaccine works.
“The vaccine works beyond our wildest dreams,” she said. “In terms of how effective it is. And Connecticut leads the country in terms of rolling out the vaccine in the state.”
And the governor adds the state is set to reopen businesses fully on May 19: the curfews and all the regulations will be dropped.
Gov. Lamont says feel free to take the mask off starting Thursday if you’re fully vaccinated. Those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.
The governor says employers can make their own decisions as well. Attorney Dan Schwartz says he has had several clients call him and ask what they should do.
“Hopefully you can achieve a lot through voluntary compliance, that would be the easiest,” Schwartz said. “People coming forward with their vaccination cards saying, ‘yes, I don’t wanna wear a mask I am good to go.’”
But will masks still be required in schools? Gov. Lamont says yes, kids still need to wear a mask.
Thursday is the first day kids age 12 to 15 can get their COVID-19 shot. And while school districts across Connecticut are working hard to get those kids vaccinated, there won’t be enough kids immunized before the end of the year for it to be safe to go maskless.
But doctors say right now it’s still their norm.
Jody L. Terranova, D.O./Assistant Professor of Pediatrics told News 8, “It’s something they’ve really gotten used to. They know it allows them to be with their friends safely. For those kids that won’t be vaccinated for a bit longer, we really need them to keep their masks on.”
Gov. Lamont says his decision could change in the fall once more kids get vaccinated.
The government in Connecticut will be back open on June 1, that is where all the forward-facing public offices will be back open again. And July 1, Gov. Lamont expects to have a lot of the people who are telecommuting come back into the offices. He says it definitely feels like a step towards normalcy.
To date, about 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer shot for children ages 12 to 15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.
Just two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.
Biden administration officials say evidence from the U.S. and Israel show the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies. And that, so far, they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.
The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who’s not yet vaccinated to sign up.
And while some people still get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated it’s rare. Biden administration officials cite evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter, and harder to spread to others. If people who are vaccinated do develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately put their masks back on and get tested.