WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased mask-wearing guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that they no longer need to wear masks to protect against the virus.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, announced the updated guidance during a news conference Thursday afternoon with the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
“We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” she said. “Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines and our understanding of how the virus spreads, that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”
Under the new guidelines, the CDC said fully vaccinated people “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.”
On Thursday, Walensky urged fully vaccinated people who are immunocompromised to talk to their doctors before foregoing wearing a mask. She noted that some places, such as hospitals, may continue to require masks for fully vaccinated people.
Unvaccinated Americans remain at risk for getting or spreading the viral infection, Walensky said. She urged those people to “still mask and ... get vaccinated right away.”
At least half of states still have statewide mask mandates in place, according to the AP. Thursday’s announcement is set to come as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people, in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
The change was announced about two weeks after the CDC eased some guidance for fully vaccinated Americans, saying that they no longer needed to wear masks outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone or with members of their families. Officials also said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks while attending small outdoor gatherings. At the time, Walensky emphasized that health officials continue to recommend masking indoors, even for fully vaccinated Americans.
A person is considered “fully vaccinated” after at least two weeks have passed since they’ve gotten their final dose of one of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
As of Wednesday, the last date for which data was available, about 117.6 million people nationwide have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, amounting to about 35% of the population, according to data from the CDC. Health officials said 153.9 million people -- 46% of the population -- have gotten at least one of the available vaccine doses so far.
More than 32.8 million people across the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. The viral infection has claimed over 583,000 lives nationwide.
Globally, 160.5 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in over 3.3 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.