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Health officials recommend that fully vaccinated people will not have to wear masks outside, even in large crowds. The US has seen a dramatic drop in new cases and deaths since providing immunizations.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday eased mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The CDC no longer recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds, and in many indoor settings.
The White House said on Twitter it was "big news" and added, "we’ve gotten this far. Whether you choose to get vaccinated or wear a mask, please protect yourself until we get to the finish line."
US President Joe Biden appeared without a mask to address reporters in front of the White House, calling the new CDC guidelines "a great day" in the fight against COVID.
"You've endured all this. When your country asked you to get vaccinated, you did," Biden said, adding that anyone who isn't fully vaccinated should continue wearing a mask. He also urged people to stop politicizing mask wearing, and respect those who choose to continue wearing a mask.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a White House briefing that "anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing."
"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
The government agency said that people should still wear masks in closed, crowded spaces such as buses, planes and mass transportation, however.
Walensky said that some people should still keep their masks at hand. People with weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients or cancer patients should talk with their doctors before dropping their masks.
There have been concerns that immunocompromised people might not respond as well to the vaccines as well as people with healthy immune systems. In a recent Johns Hopkins study, only 54% of observed transplant recipients had detectable antibodies against COVID-19 after they were fully vaccinated.
The announcement comes as new cases have continued to fall to their lowest rate since last September. Deaths have fallen to rates not seen since April 2020 and test positivity rate is at its lowest point since the pandemic began in the country.
About 154 million Americans, more than 46% of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines. More than 117 million Americans are fully vaccinated.
Thursday's announcement was a stark contrast from two weeks ago when the CDC recommending that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks at any time while indoors and when outside in large crowds.
During a virtual meeting with a bipartisan group of governors earlier this week, US President Joe Biden acknowledged that he needed to do more to show the benefits of being vaccinated.
"I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it," Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox told Biden during the meeting.
The CDC said that new data collected in the past two weeks showed that vaccines "work in the real world, they stand up to the variants, and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus."
"We followed the science here," said Walensky, adding, "a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week."
kbd/rt (AP, Reuters)