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CDC: Vaccinated people can now remove masks in most group settings

People are are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

CDC last month released guidelines that said fully vaccinated people could walk, run, bike, dine and gather outdoors without masks with members of their household and other vaccinated family and friends. But that advice stressed that larger indoor gatherings were riskier, even for a fully inoculated group. The CDC had also said vaccinated people could gather in small groups outdoors without masks even if the group includes unvaccinated individuals.

The guidelines announced Thursday go a step further, saying fully vaccinated individuals can now remove their masks in all group settings and that they do not need to social distance from other people. The CDC says Americans should still wear masks in public places — like grocery stores, airplanes or hospitals — and should adhere to all local and federal mask mandates. And, the CDC said unvaccinated people should still take precautions while gathering with those who are immunocompromised.

“If you are not fully vaccinated, you are not fully protected and so you need to be continuing to wear your mask and practicing all of the mitigation strategies that we’ve been discussing before,” Walensky said.

The news comes as Covid-19 infection rates are falling across the country. But the pace of vaccination is also falling, and senior officials inside the Biden administration have for weeks debated about publishing guidelines that recommend Americans roll back their mask use at a time when the Covid-19 situation in the country is still uncertain.

Some administration officials have argued that the U.S. is not yet at a place where it should relax public health guidelines, particularly because of the emergence of new, highly transmissible Covid-19 variants, two individuals with knowledge of those conversations said. Other officials, though, have said that despite falling vaccination numbers, the U.S. has vaccinated enough American adults that it can begin to issue guidelines that allow those individuals to ease toward normalcy.

The announcement by the CDC Thursday points to a growing consensus inside the Biden administration that it is safe for the U.S. to begin returning back to normal — that the infection rates are low enough where Americans can begin to relax more so than they have over the past year and half.

Shortly after the policy became public, the White House announced that staff and visitors who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks within the White House complex.

The CDC stressed Wednesday, though, that the guidelines do not apply to health care or congregate settings.

Fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in the U.S. are still required to get tested within 3 days of their flight, or show documentation of recovery from Covid-19 in the past 3 months, and should still get tested 3-5 days after their trip, the CDC said.

David Lim contributed to this report.

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