WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A wave of praise came from political leaders Thursday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear a mask in most situations.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a virtual press briefing from the White House coronavirus task force.
For the past few months, the White House had pushed back on taking the leap. But in announcing the guidance change, Walensky said the science shows the risk of infection is low for those who are fully vaccinated. She also pointed to week-over-week declines in infection and death rates nationwide.
“We have all longed for this moment where we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Walensky said.
Calling it “a great milestone,” President Joe Biden said the announcement proves the country is making significant strides to beat the pandemic. He thanked Americans for their patients and applauded the third of the population over the age of 16 that is now fully vaccinated.
“For more than year, you’ve endured so much and so many lost jobs,” Biden said. “You’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known all around the world… Greeting people with a smile.”
The new guidance comes with some limitations: Fully vaccinated people should still use masks in health care settings, on public transportation or when aboard an airplane.
Republicans celebrated the announcement, including a group that met with the president Thursday. Sen. Shelley Capito-R-W.Va., said they and Biden all removed their masks for an Oval Office meeting.
The guidance is just that — a recommendation, not a mandate. While a handful of state governors immediately embraced the change, others are holding off to review the data.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents thousands of grocery store workers, criticized the decision, with its president calling it confusing and inconsiderate to workers who can’t tell who is fully vaccinated and who isn’t. It has called on the administration to clarify the rules.
In the meantime, Biden and health officials continue to urge the 60% of Americans who aren’t vaccinated to either get the shots or keep their masks on.