CDC issues new guidance on outdoor mask-wearing. Expert: ‘We’re still learning.’



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines Tuesday on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers.

And those who are unvaccinated can go outside without masks in some cases, too.

“If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households, the science shows if you are vaccinated, you can do so safely unmasked,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing outlining the new guidelines. ”Generally, for vaccinated people, outdoor activities without a mask are safe.”

However, the CDC continues to recommend masking in crowded outdoor settings and venues, such as packed stadiums and concerts where there is decreased ability to maintain physical distance and where many unvaccinated people may also be present, Walensky said.

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

The new guidance, which Walensky said will help Americans and their families and neighbors make decisions, represents another carefully calibrated step on the road back to normal from the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 570,000 people in U.S.

But the CDC’s announcement means continuing to do a risk assessment, and not throwing caution to the wind, according to Patty Olinger, executive director for the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, which helps organizations and businesses prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological threat, and biohazard situations and real-time crises.

“This is good news, but we still should be cautious and be aware of the situation that we’re walking into,” Olinger told this news outlet Tuesday. “If you’re going to go into a crowded facility, crowded venue, then those are the times to be thoughtful of when to wear your mask. If you’re going outside, going for a walk in the park, obviously those are less risk situations.”

Olinger said each person understanding not only their own risk, but the risk to the others they are going to be around is important, as well.

“If you’re going to visit someone who’s elderly or maybe who is immunocompromised and couldn’t get the vaccine, understanding that there are still very vulnerable populations out there,” she said. “We’re still learning, so we need to continue our evaluation of when it’s appropriate and when to relax our masks and also be respectful of those businesses who are saying ‘if you’re coming into my facility or coming into my venue, you need to wear a mask.’”

For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other. The change comes as more than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

Walensky said the decision was driven by rising vaccination numbers; declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths; and research showing that less than 10 percent of documented instances of transmission of the virus happened outdoors.

The CDC, which has been cautious in its guidance during the crisis, essentially endorsed what many Americans have already been doing over the past several weeks.

It said that fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. They can also go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.

But from there, the CDC has differing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.

Unvaccinated people — defined by the CDC as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep using masks at outdoor restaurants.

Fully vaccinated people do not need to cover up in those situations, the CDC says.

However, everyone should keep wearing masks at crowded outdoor events such as concerts or sporting events, the CDC says.

And the agency continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, gyms, museums and movie theaters, saying that is still the safer course even for vaccinated people.

“Right now it’s very hard to tease apart who is vaccinated, where they are in the vaccination (process),” Walensky said. “So it’s not just to protect themselves, but largely to protect others and really to protect the unvaccinated.”

She said the CDC guidance should be a model for states in setting their mask-wearing requirements.

Walensky urged those who have not yet been vaccinated to roll up their sleeves and do so.

“When you are fully vaccinated, you can return to many activities safely and most of them outdoors and unmasked and begin to get back to normal,” she said. “And the more people who are vaccinated, the more steps we can take toward spending time with people we love, doing the things we love to enjoy.”

Kings Island makes changes

The new guidance arrived a day after Kings Island said that face coverings won’t be required outdoors unless it is not possible to maintain six feet of social distancing.

Guests 10 years and older to wear face coverings while indoors, unless actively eating and drinking. Kings Island said face coverings are recommended for outdoor rides and required for indoor rides.

There will be no limitations to ride capacity for most rides.

A health screen questionnaire at the park entrances will be conducted by park associates and not through the Kings Island mobile app. Temperature checks for guests at the front gate have been discontinued.

Ohio might update its mask mandate after CDC’s updated guidance.

Gov. Mike DeWine said he glanced at the updated guidelines prior to his press conference Tuesday afternoon and the “basic principles” appear to be the same as Ohio’s mandate.

“I don’t think the CDC’s comments today is big surprise,” he said. “It doesn’t change that if we’re in a crowded area outside, we need to wear a mask.”

Under the state’s mask mandate, Ohioans are required to wear masks while inside stores, restaurants and indoor public buildings, as well as while using public transportation. Residents should also wear masks outside where social distancing isn’t possible.

Staff Writer Kristen Spicker and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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