For the first time since Trump declared the novel coronavirus pandemic a national emergency last March, Americans can safely smile, frown, and even blow air kisses (from a distance) at strangers without the shroud of a face covering — as long as both parties are in a non-crowded outdoor space.
That’s according to new guidance released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If you are fully vaccinated you can start doing many things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” the new CDC guidance says. “Fully vaccinated” status is achieved two weeks after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky elaborated on the development Tuesday during a White House briefing: “If you are vaccinated, things are much safer for you.”
The health official continued, elaborating on the updated mask guidelines: “If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering — with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated — or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households, the science shows you can do so safely, unmasked.”
When Is It Safe To Go Maskless?
The CDC is very clear when it is (and is not) safe to not wear masks outdoors. CDC-sanctioned, safe outdoor settings include:
- Small, outdoor gatherings with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people
- Outdoor restaurants with friends and members of your household
- Outdoor spaces when walking, running, cycling, rollerblading, flying kites, unicycling, doing the macarena, etc.
The aforementioned outdoor settings are so low risk that even those without a coronavirus vaccine may participate without wearing a face mask, according to the CDC.
When Is It NOT Safe To Go Maskless?
Whether you have received a COVID-19 vaccine or not, there are certain settings where you should wear a mask, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that both vaccinated people and unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks in the following scenarios where social distancing may be difficult:
- Crowded outdoor events, like concerts, sporting events, and parades
- Indoor settings, including barbershops and hair salons, indoor malls and museums, movie theaters, and full-capacity churches
- Public transportation
The CDC is relaxing mask mandates now that more than 50 percent of American adults have obtained at least one dose of the vaccine. Even before the new guidelines, public health experts have long noted the low likelihood of becoming infected with an infectious disease while outdoors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief infectious disease expert in the U.S., has called the risk of spread in outdoor settings “minuscule.”
“Virus just cannot accumulate in the air outdoors,” Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech, told NPR. “It’s like putting a drop of dye into the ocean. If you happen to be right next to it, then maybe you’ll get a whiff of it. But it’s going to become diluted rapidly into the huge atmosphere.”
President Joe Biden has hailed the relaxation of mask requirements as a way to dispel vaccine hesitancy, urging unvaccinated citizens to do so — not just to protect themselves and those around them, but so they can begin returning to normalcy by “getting together with friends, going to the park for a picnic without needing a mask.”