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CDC Updates COVID-19 Mask Guidance

April 28, 2021
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask in small outdoor gatherings.

“Generally, for vaccinated people, outdoor activities without a mask are safe,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, during a virtual White House briefing on Tuesday.

The CDC still recommends unvaccinated people wear a mask and maintain social distance with others. People do not need to wear masks when walking, hiking, running or biking outdoors alone or with members of the same household.

The updated guidance includes additional clarifications for fully vaccinated people in non-health care settings. They can:

  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if they are asymptomatic.
  • Refrain from routine screening testing, if feasible.
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the U.S. for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine upon their return.
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.

The CDC updated its guidance based on increasing data that suggests most COVID-19 transmission happens in indoor settings. In many studies, Walensky said less than 10% of documented transmission occurred outdoors and almost a 20-fold increased risk of transmission indoors.

“That, coupled with the fact that we now have 37% of people over the age of 18 fully vaccinated and the fact that our case rates are now starting to come down, motivated our change in guidance,” she said. “This is the third time we’ve changed our guidance for fully vaccinated people. As more people get vaccinated and as case rates continue to come down, we will come up with further updates.”

A Department of Labor spokesperson told EHS Today that OSHA is aware of the recent CDC updated recommendations for fully vaccinated people. "We are considering the updated CDC guidance and its implications for workers and workplaces," the spokesperson said. CDC recommendations offer examples of social meetups and dining out; they do not address working outdoors. 

The CDC defines people as fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine.

Fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in indoor public settings, such as wearing face masks, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands.
  • Wear well-fitting masks when indoors with visiting indoors with unvaccinated people from multiple households or who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
  • Avoid indoor large in-person gatherings.
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers.
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.
The CDC still recommends everyone wear a mask at medium- or large-sized outdoor gatherings, such as a concert or other live performance, parade or sporting event. Walensky explained that is because of the inability to distinguished between who has been vaccinated and protect those who are unvaccinated. The CDC continues to recommend avoiding large indoor gatherings.

“Although these vaccines are extremely effective, we know that the virus spreads very well indoors,” she said. “Until more people are vaccinated and while we still have more than 50,000 cases a day, mask use indoors will provide extra protection. The examples today show that when you are fully vaccinated, you can return to many activities safely.”

Speaking outside the White House, President Joe Biden described the guidance as a step toward normalcy and encouraged all U.S. adults to get vaccinated.

“The bottom line is clear: If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors, as well as indoors,” he said. “So, for those who haven’t gotten their vaccination yet, especially if you’re younger or thinking you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated—now.

“It’s never been easier, and once you’re fully vaccinated, you can go without a mask when you’re outside and away from big crowds.”

Biden announced a forthcoming plan of how to continue getting COVID-19 under control so people can celebrate July 4 with friends and family. 

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