To mask up or not? Decoding the CDC’s guidelines on face masks

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The CDC’s new public health recommendations on face coverings have created quite an uproar in the last few days. We break down the guidelines, clear up the confusion and highlight what this means for you.


Wearing a mask as part of Covid-19 social distancing safety protocols for almost everyone on the planet is now part of everyday life. However, with the latest announcement of updated federal guidelines on facial coverings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a lot of confusion has sprung up.

The surprise guidelines, which suggest fully vaccinated Americans can skip wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor scenarios, have sparked confusion among the public while also drawing flak from health experts and igniting fresh controversies on how businesses impose these restrictions.

What is the CDC’s new guidance?

  • Fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask or maintain social distancing during most indoor and outdoor activities.
  • Those fully vaccinated must continue to wear a mask while traveling by plane, bus or train.
  • In certain locations like hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, the guidance does not apply and masks must be worn at all times.
  • Those who haven’t taken their vaccinations remain at risk. They must continue wearing masks and have been advised to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

How America has reacted to CDC’s guidance?

For a section of Americans, the CDC’s easing of facial covering guidelines for the fully vaccinated is a reason for celebration with many calling the move “liberating”. However, even with the option to take off masks both indoors and outdoors, many who have been vaccinated are being cautious and keeping their masks on.

Then there are those who have completely ditched their masks and taken to the streets in numbers without any concern for social distancing protocols.

While this is the first time in over a year that the government body has encouraged ditching face masks, this new development must be taken with a pinch of salt in the pandemic context.

What this means for a fully vaccinated person?

You can step out without a mask. However, at least for the next couple of weeks, it is recommended that you still wear a mask, taking it off and on depending on the circumstances.

The CDC has also dropped the ball in the courts of state and local governments to decide how to move forward with the new guidelines. Most state and city mandates are still enforcing the rule to wear a mask.

While states like New York, North Carolina, Washington, Minnesota and Florida have adopted the new guidelines, others like New Jersey and California have said that they will not implement the guidance on masks and continue maintaining existing protocols. Other states like Maine, Kentucky and Massachusetts will follow suit in a few weeks, giving time for people to get vaccinated.

How the CDC guidance will impact businesses?

Many businesses have changed their face masks policies to accommodate these guidelines with companies like Starbucks announcing that customers will no longer need to wear mask in the stores unless local laws dictate wearing a mask. Joining them are Costco, Trader Joe’s and Walmart with similar rules in place.

A section of companies are scrambling to decide how they can align the new recommendation with their existing safety measures. Many are still figuring out how to handle vaccinated customers and employees different from people who are yet to get their shots.

Despite the announcement, some retailers have said that they have no immediate plans to change their policies and will still require people to wear masks on their premises. 

What it means for those who have not taken their shot?

You will still have to wear your masks at all times outside and inside. Since it’s impossible to know for sure if someone is fully inoculated without asking to look at their vaccination card, it is important for you to continue wearing masks at all times.

Moreover, the chances of infection are high since carriers and asymptomatic people can still transmit the virus. The CDC advises all those who have not been vaccinated to get their shots at the earliest.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people are those who have crossed two weeks since receiving their second dose of their vaccine (like the one from Pfizer, BioNTech or Moderna) or two weeks after getting the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

However, the rules are still viable to change, so make sure to check before you leave your mask at home. The CDC hopes the move will serve as an incentive for more people to get vaccinated.

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