CDC relaxes guidelines for mask wearing

Washington: President Biden and federal officials announced earlier this week that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors in most situations. These include when walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or with members of their household; or if they attend small outdoor gatherings.

“Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends, in a park, going for a picnic,” Biden said, addressing reporters, “as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without wearing a mask.”

The guidance, however, stopped short of saying Americans can shed their masks altogether. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there were still reasons to be cautious because of high caseloads in some parts of the country and the risk of still transmitting the virus after vaccination.

The agency also maintained that adults should continue to wear masks and social distance:

In large public spaces, like outdoor performances or sports events, indoor shopping malls and movie theaters, or when the space is crowded.
Where the vaccination and health status of others are unknown, like a social gathering where you don’t know everyone’s status.
Adults should still avoid medium and large gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces. And everyone should still wear a mask when doing almost anything indoors that involves contact with people who are not members of your household.

Some experts wondered whether the new directives were overly complicated, establishing different standards for those who are vaccinated and those who are not, even though it is impossible to know which category people are in.

“It’s not like you can go up to someone in public and say, ‘You don’t have a mask on — are you vaccinated?’” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “Those who aren’t vaccinated will promptly take their mask off outdoors because no one can check.”

A growing body of research indicates that the risk of spreading the virus is far lower outdoors than it is indoors. Viral particles disperse quickly outdoors, experts say, meaning brief encounters with a passing walker or jogger pose very little risk of transmission.

Image courtesy of (Graphic: CDC)

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