The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus no longer need to wear masks outdoors, except for large gatherings.
The risk of the virus spreading outdoors is so low that even unvaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask if they hike, jog or are with a household member, according to the CDC guidelines issued on Tuesday.
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of one another.
“Today, I hope, is a day when we can take another step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
According to the new guidelines, small-and medium-sized gatherings for people who are outside and vaccinated can safely be done without a mask.
Ms Walensky said that determining whether to wear a mask in larger outdoor gatherings would depend on other concerns like how well ventilated a venue is and how much space is left between people.
The guidelines are for the fully vaccinated – which means two weeks after a person’s final vaccine jab, the BBC reported.
Evidence suggests that although COVID-19 infections can happen outdoors, the risks of transmission are very low.
Early studies also indicate that fully vaccinated people are much less likely to spread the virus.
Ms Walensky said mask guidance for the fully vaccinated was intended largely to protect the unvaccinated.
“We really do want people who are unvaccinated to limit interactions with people, to go back to the basic principles of increased ventilation, spacing,” she said.
She noted that the decision was driven by rising vaccination numbers; declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths; and research showing that less than 10 per cent of documented instances of transmission of the virus happened outdoors.
Nearly 141 million Americans representing about 42 per cent of the total population have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccines as of April 26, according to the CDC.
More than a third of Americans have been fully vaccinated against the virus which has claimed over 3 million lives globally.
As of April 27, America has recorded over 32 million COVID-19 infections and over 500,000 deaths, data from worldometers.info shows.
U.S. President Joe Biden celebrated the new guidance as “extraordinary progress”.
“Our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low,” Mr Biden said.
“The bottom line is clear: if you’re vaccinated you can do more.”
The president also urged Americans who have not yet received their shot to do so as a patriotic act.
“Vaccines are about saving your life but also the lives of the people around you- but they’re also about helping us get back closer to more normal living,” he said.
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