Fully vaccinated Americans can discard masks and the need for social distancing outdoors and in most indoors settings, the CDC said Thursday in a dramatic announcement after months of mostly cautious measures.
The new guidelines announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represent a major step toward a return to normalcy for a nation battered and at times divided by a pandemic that has lasted more than a year.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
A person is considered fully vaccinated against the coronavirus two weeks after getting the second Pfizer or Moderna shot or the same length of time after receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The new guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools. In addition, the agency will no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds, possibly allowing for bigger capacities at sporting events.
“Today is a great day for America in our long battle with the coronavirus,” President Joe Biden said in the Rose Garden after the CDC’s announcement. “It think it’s a great milestone.”
Biden was meeting with GOP senators in the Oval Office when the CDC issued the new guidance and told his guests they could ditch their masks, according to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
“The president said let’s just take them off, right here, in the meeting,” Blunt told reporters.
Masks mandates got politicized under former President Donald Trump, who usually eschewed face coverings and mocked those who had them, and they became a source of discord in parts of the country.
The new recommendations from the CDC could also serve as an incentive for the tens of millions of eligible Americans who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots. Though more than 46% of the U.S. population of 330 million has received at least one vaccine dose, polls have shown about 25% don’t intend to get inoculated.
Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are at their lowest rate since September and deaths are at their lowest point since April 2020, averaging about 600 a day, but some experts still worry that the emergence of variants could disrupt that momentum and create another surge, especially as the virus continues to rage in other parts of the world.
Biden’s administration had been under pressure to loosen pandemic restrictions as more Americans got vaccinated and infections diminished across most of the country.
Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health expert at the University of South Florida, said the CDC had lost a great “a great deal of credibility” in the public’s perception in part because its cautious guidance often lagged behind the “pragmatic realities” of the pandemic.
Contributing: Joel Shannon, Maureen Groppe
Also in the news:
►Youths 12 and up across most of the nation started to get widely vaccinated a day after the CDC cleared the Pfizer vaccine for the 12-15 age group.
►Prince Harry called out comedian Joe Rogan for suggesting on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast that young, healthy adults need not get vaccinated. “You’ve got to be careful about what comes out of your mouth,” the British prince said on the “Armchair Expert” podcast that was released Thursday
►McDonald’s is raising hourly pay by an average of 10% at 650 company-owned stores in the U.S. It’s part of its push to hire thousands of new workers amid an easing pandemic and economic boom.
►India reported more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths for the second day in a row amid concerns that many more rural deaths are going unreported.
►Caesars Entertainment announced that its nine casinos have been cleared for 100% capacity in Las Vegas amid easing of coronavirus restrictions.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 32.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 583,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: 160 million cases and 3.33 million deaths. More than 337 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and more than 264.6 million have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 117.6 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 35.4% of the population.
📘 What we’re reading: How effective are COVID-19 vaccines in the real world? Two studies offer ‘stunning’ results, one doctor says.
Proms, essentially outlawed a year ago, are coming back in some school districts but with big changes. Some require a negative coronavirus test while others encourage vaccination. Most are requiring masks and putting strict restrictions on dancing or who can attend. In Florida, Sarasota County schools are banning dancing and limiting the event to seniors. At Elmbrook Schools outside of Milwaukee, prom-goers need a negative COVID-19 test and are encouraged to stick with their friends “to prevent any outbreak from having a dramatic impact on our ability to continue operations.” An outdoor prom in Exeter, New Hampshire, on June 4 will rotate students on and off the dance floor – no touching allowed.
“The last thing we want is to spread COVID,” said Liz Morse, Exeter High School senior class adviser. “Everyone is making concessions, and people are being pretty gracious about it.”
The U.S. public health system was thrust into the limelight by the coronavirus pandemic, and a survey published Thursday found many Americans aren’t happy with its performance. According to the survey, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in February and March, ratings of nation’s public health system declined from 43% in 2009 to 34% in 2021. Positive ratings for the CDC fell overall from 59% in 2009 to 54% in 2021.
“How the public sees public health is incredibly important,” said Dr. Robert Blendon, co-director of the survey at Harvard. “When it comes to trust with health information, which is the heart of what public health is about, they’re much more likely to trust clinical physicians and nurses than public health institutions and agencies.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
You may be eligible for a $50 monthly coronavirus pandemic discount on your home broadband bill starting this week. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was included as part of the roughly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in December 2020 and signed by President Donald Trump. It set aside $3.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission to cover the program. Among those eligible are households with income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines.
“We all know that Internet access is essential for modern life,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that broadband is no longer nice to have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere.”
– Mike Snider
Ohio will give away $1 million prizes to five adults, plus another five full-ride public college scholarships to teens who get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a statewide televised address Wednesday. “Ohio Vax-a-Million” drawings will be held for five consecutive Wednesdays, starting May 26, to pick the $1 million winners. The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds. To be eligible, you must be 18 or older, an Ohio resident and vaccinated before the drawing.
DeWine said 12- to 17-year-olds can sign up for the scholarship drawing via an electronic portal that will open May 18.
– Laura A. Bischoff, The Columbus Dispatch
High-income countries with access to manufacturing vaccines should commit to providing low-income countries at least 1 billion vaccine doses no later than fall 2021, according to a new report delivered to the World Health Organization. The report, intended to address missteps over the past year leading to more than 3 million deaths and even more lives changed, also focused on what countries in WHO can immediately do to stop the pandemic.
“The significant inequity in vaccine access must be addressed immediately, as it is not only unjust but also threatens the effectiveness of global efforts to control the pandemic,” the report said.
The report, released with another in advance of this month’s meeting of the WHO’s governing assembly, also said that world governments must act swiftly and preemptively with the next pandemic to avoid global catastrophe.
Thirteen more cases of an unusual blood clotting disorder have been identified among people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but no one else has died and no new cases have been seen among people vaccinated after the government’s 11-day pause in J&J shots.
The CDC said Wednesday that 28 people have now been identified with a disorder being called Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). To qualify for the diagnosis, someone must have a blood clot, known as a thrombosis, in an uncommon location, such as the brain, as well as low levels of platelets in their blood, a condition known as thrombocytopenia.
The combination is extremely rare. The fact that it occurred in so many people within about two weeks of vaccination “suggests a plausible causal association,” Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, deputy director of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, told an agency advisory committee Wednesday.
– Karen Weintraub
Contributing: The Associated Press.