- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Biden administration on Tuesday said fully vaccinated people can ditch their COVID-19 masks outdoors but should keep them on at sporting events and among crowds.

“Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do. Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks if they’re sitting with people from other households at outdoor restaurant tables. 

They also can enjoy small outdoor gatherings with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people and don’t need to cover their faces if they’re walking, jogging or biking alone or with members of their household.

However, the CDC said all people should continue to wear masks at large events, such as live performances and sporting events, citing the share of people who remain unvaccinated as the virus pings around the country at a rate of 55,000 known infections per day.

“We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved,” Dr. Walensky said.

Health experts said the guidance is a step in the right direction, given evidence the virus is far less likely to spread outdoors than indoors, but some in the GOP said the administration needs to pick up the pace in dismantling guardrails around behavior.

“I’m glad the CDC finally acknowledged what has been obvious for a long time, which is that wearing a mask outside is silly and not remotely justified by the science. Too often, the CDC, especially under the Biden administration, has been driven by politics and not science,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, told reporters. “And I think the more the CDC drags its feet, the more they are discouraging people from getting vaccines.”

President Biden faces pressure to outline a path to normalcy for a pandemic-weary public as the vaccination campaign unfolds. More than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine as officials push for widespread immunity.

A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson or the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

“Starting today, if you’re fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors and not in a big crowd, you can do it without a mask,” Mr. Biden said outside the White House. “This is another great reason to go get vaccinated now.”

Mr. Biden wore a mask as he approached the outdoor lectern, before taking it off. He didn’t put it back on as he walked back into the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she will follow the new guidance by shirking a mask when she takes her kids to the playground this weekend.

“The science has been clear that outdoor transmission is a rare event and even rarer when you’re considering individuals who are vaccinated. The CDC is taking a cautious baby step but it is, nonetheless, a step in the correct direction,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Hopefully, we will see states move to at least adopt the CDC guidance but there are, already, states that have moved beyond it.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, swiftly announced they will adopt the federal guidance in state rules about mask-wearing.

“That is liberating, especially now that the weather is getting warmer,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Texas, meanwhile, lifted its public mask mandate entirely in March and welcomed a capacity crowd for Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in Arlington this month.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently held a mask-optional event in a packed indoor arena in Florida. UFC President Dana White said it is “time to get back to normal.”

Masks became ubiquitous near the start of the global pandemic last year, as federal officials recognized the extent of the asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus. But they swiftly became a symbol of the political fights around government rules designed to control the virus.

Republican lawmakers have accused officials that they are being overly cautious in requiring masks and say relaxing rules will get more people to roll up their sleeves.

“If the Biden administration is telling people, even if you get vaccinated, you’ve got to continue to wear a mask and continue to go through all the restrictions that you did before getting vaccinated that is going to discourage millions of people from getting vaccinated, I think that’s a mistake,” Mr. Cruz said.

The administration said it, too, hopes people see the revised guidance as a carrot of sorts after a year of sticks through mandates and shutdowns.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the more steps we can take towards spending time with people we love doing the things we love to enjoy,” Dr. Walensky said.

The CDC previously advised that people who are fully vaccinated can gather with other vaccinated persons for a small indoor gathering, like a dinner party. It also said vaccinated people could gather inside with unvaccinated persons from another household who are at low risk of developing severe COVID-19. And it loosened rules on travel for vaccinated persons.

The CDC said it remains worried about the level of transmission indoors so people should continue to wear masks at places like houses of worship or gyms.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.