Covid-19: Vaccinated people in US can stop wearing masks, social distancing

President Joe Biden hails ‘milestone’ moment but CDC advice sprinkled with caveats

US health officials have advised Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 that they could stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance in most settings.

The recommendations, the clearest sign yet that the pandemic might be nearing an end in the US, caught state officials and businesses by surprise and raised a host of difficult questions about how the guidelines would be followed. But the advice came as welcome news to many.

“We have all longed for this moment,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”


Vaccine incentive

Permission to stop using masks also offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. Providers are administering about 2.09 million doses per day on average, a 38 per cent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million a day reported in mid-April.

President Joe Biden hailed the recommendations as a “milestone” and urged Americans to roll up their sleeves for vaccinations. Mr Biden urged Americans not to turn on those who were not yet vaccinated.

“Please treat them with kindness and respect,” he said.

The CDC said that vaccinated Americans would have to continue to abide by existing state, local or tribal laws and regulations and follow local rules for businesses and workplaces.

But many local officials and business operators will be hard-pressed to maintain mask requirements now that the federal agency has spoken.

Steep drop in infections

Dr Walensky said the new recommendations had resulted from a steep drop in coronavirus infections, which have declined by about a third in the last two weeks, and an increase in the availability of vaccines.

She also cited a “coalescence” of new research that showed the vaccine’s effectiveness against virus variants and in preventing transmission.

The CDC’s advice was sprinkled with caveats. Even vaccinated individuals must cover their faces and physically distance when going to doctors, hospitals or long-term-care facilities like nursing homes and homeless shelters; when traveling by bus, plane, train or other modes of public transportation or while in transportation hubs like airports and bus stations; and when in prisons and jails.

The agency was not specific about masking in some settings, including schools. Dr Walensky said that agency recommendations would be refined in the coming weeks. - New York Times