NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The director of the Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans can now go maskless indoors.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were not wearing masks when they spoke about the decision at the Rose Garden.
"Get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do," Biden said. "If you've been vaccinated, you don't have to wear your mask and you can shake hands. You can even give each other a hug."
"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
The CDC says its decision is based on new evidence that fully vaccinated Americans are highly unlikely to spread the virus even indoors or in large crowds.
"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," Walensky said.
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But this updated guidance doesn't mean you can take your mask off just anywhere, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported.
Going mask-free is just a recommendation. The decision is ultimately up to local governments. Independent businesses and workplaces may still require them.
Watch Andrea Grymes' report --
As CBS2's Ali Bauman reports, Connecticut is already following the CDC's recommendation while New York and New Jersey's governors say they are reviewing the guidance on masks with local health officials.
Masks also remain a requirement for everyone in health care settings and on planes, buses, trains and any public transportation.
"If you are immune compromised, you will most definitely want to talk to your doctor before giving up your mask," Walensky said.
It's a big change from the CDC's last mask guidance, just over two weeks ago, which was widely criticized as being too cautious.
Walensky said Thursday's decision was based on data that has come out since then, including about the vaccine's overall effectiveness and effectiveness against variants.
"Our purpose here as a public health agency is to follow the science," Walensky said.
She said the CDC will be issuing updated guidance shortly for businesses, schools and travel.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers is calling for schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction five days a week.
"The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school and my union is all in," AFT President Randi Weingarten said.
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All of this comes as children ages 12 to 15 are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
On Thursday at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, a small group was among the first to roll up sleeves.
"It means that I can go back to school and start traveling again and do things we used to do," 13-year-old Sydney Jordan said.
"We just wanted to resume some sort of normalcy in our lives," mother Valentine Jordan added.
Fifteen-year-old Jaclyn Kotora was among the first to roll up her sleeve at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I expected it to hurt more," she said.
"She's getting her first job as a camp counselor this summer, and so the sooner she can get the vaccine, the more she's gonna be protected starting her job," said Vivian Kotora, Jacyln's mother.
Federal health officials hope the newly relaxed mask restrictions and expanded eligibility will encourage more people to get vaccinated. There's no doubt this is a turning point in our return to normalcy.
CBS2's Andrea Grymes contributed to this report.
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