April 27, 2021 -- After hinting that new guidelines on outdoor mask-wearing were coming, the CDC on Tuesday officially gave a green light to fully vaccinated people gathering outside in uncrowded activities without the masks that have become so common during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a minor – but still significant – step toward the end of pandemic restrictions.
“Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House press briefing. “Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”
President Joe Biden affirmed the new guidelines at a press conference soon after the CDC briefing ended.
“Starting today, if you are fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors and not in a big crowd, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, adding “the bottom line is clear: If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors.”
Biden emphasized the role science played in the decision, saying “The CDC is able to make this announcement because our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low if you’ve both been fully vaccinated and are out in the open air.”
Biden also said these new guidelines should be an incentive for more people to get vaccinated. “This is another great reason to go get vaccinated now. Now,” he said.
The CDC has long advised that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities.
“Most of transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors. Less than 10% of documented transmissions in many studies have occurred outdoors,” said Walensky. “We also know there’s almost a 20-fold increased risk of transmission in the indoor setting, than the outdoor setting.”
Walensky said the lower risks outdoors, combined with growing vaccination coverage and falling COVID cases around the country motivated the change.
The new guidelines come as the share people in the U.S. who are vaccinated is growing. About 37% of all eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Nearly 54% have had at least one dose.
The new guidelines say unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks outdoors when gathering with others or dining at an outdoor restaurant.
And vaccinated people should continue to wear masks outdoors in crowded settings where social distancing might not always be possible, like a concert or sporting event. People are considered fully vaccinated when they are 2 weeks past their last shot
The CDC guidelines say people who live in the same house don’t need to wear masks if they’re exercising or hanging out together outdoors.
You also don’t need a mask if you’re attending a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends, whether you’re vaccinated or not.
The new guidelines also say it’s OK for fully vaccinated people to take their masks off outdoors when gathering in a small group of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but suggest that unvaccinated people should still wear a mask.
Reporter Marcia Frellick contributed to this report.