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CDC Eases Guidance On Mask Wearing For People Who Are Fully Vaccinated; Gov. Pritzker To Revise State's Mask Mandate

(CBS/AP) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its guidance regarding masks, to say people who have been fully vaccinated do not need face coverings in most places, and can even forgo social distancing in many indoor locations.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new guidance during a White House COVID-19 briefing.

"Today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people," Walensky said. "Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large our small, without wearing a mask or fully vaccinated. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you have stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy."

Anyone who is vaccinated but develops symptoms should mask up and get tested, she warned. Walensky also warned that there's always a chance the pandemic situation could worsen.

The move comes shortly after the CDC said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors.

In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker has said the state is on track to fully reopen, with no capacity restrictions, by June 11, barring significant increases in COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations in the next four weeks. He has said the state's mask mandate will remain in place until CDC recommends lifting mask requirements.

A spokeswoman for the governor's office said Thursday afternoon that Pritzker planned to update his statewide mask mandate based on the new CDC guidance.

"The Governor believes firmly in following the science and intends to revise his executive orders in line with the upcoming CDC guidelines lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people. The scientists' message is clear: if you are vaccinated, you can safely do much more," Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.

The Illinois mask mandate currently requires anyone over age two, who can medically tolerate a face covering, to wear a mask over their nose and mouth when in any public place where they can't maintain social distancing, including at any time inside stores.

The new guidance from the CDC doesn't apply to health care settings, such as hospitals, doctors' officials, and long-term care facilities. It also doesn't apply to correctional facilities or homeless shelters.

The CDC still urges fully vaccinated people to wear well-fitted masks when it is required by federal, state or local laws, as well as by businesses. Masks will still be required on planes, trains and other types of public transportation.

The CDC defines "fully vaccinated" as two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose regimen, like Pfizer or Moderna, and two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The new comes as the nation crosses 250 million vaccinations, and heads toward President Biden's goal of 70% of Americans having at least one dose by July 4.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in 12-to-15-year-olds.

The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.

Walensky said the long-awaited change is thanks to millions of people getting vaccinated -- and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

The new guidance comes as the aggressive U.S. vaccination campaign begins to pay off. U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

To date about 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorization Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.

Just two weeks ago, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.

During a virtual meeting Tuesday on vaccinations with a bipartisan group of governors, President Joe Biden appeared to acknowledge that his administration had to do more to model the benefits of vaccination.

"I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it," Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, told Biden. "And that's a big motivation get the unvaccinated to want to to get vaccinated."

"Good point," Biden responded. He added, "we're going to be moving on that in the next little bit."

The easing guidance could open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not.

Walensky said the evidence from the U.S. and Israel shows the vaccines are as strongly protective in real-world use as they were in earlier studies, and that so far they continue to work even though some worrying mutated versions of the virus are spreading.

The more people continue to get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop -- and the harder it will be for the virus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, she stressed, urging everyone 12 and older who's not yet vaccinated to sign up.

And while some people still get COVID-19 despite vaccination, Walensky said that's rare and cited evidence that those infections tend to be milder, shorter and harder to spread to others. If someone who's vaccinated does develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately re-mask and get tested, she said.

There are some caveats. Walensky encouraged people who have weak immune systems, such as from organ transplants or cancer treatment, to talk with their doctors before shedding their masks. That's because of continued uncertainty about whether the vaccines can rev up a weakened immune system as well as they do normal, healthy ones.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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