On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an update on its masking guidance. People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing both outside and inside, with some exceptions based on state, local, federal, and tribal regulations.
"We have all longed for this moment," Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the CDC, said at a White House news conference on Thursday. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
Hours after the announcement, First Lady Jill Biden made a quick appearance without her mask, as she, Senator Joe Manchin, and his wife Gayle disembarked Air Force Once. The following day, on Friday, the First Lady made a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to celebrate the reopening of D.C. museums. When she was spotted without her mask and asked to comment on the new CDC guidelines she told reporters, "Isn't it great? Don't you feel great without it?"
The new guidelines didn't stop Biden from continuing to wear her mask inside the museum, however, which caused some confusion and (of course) plenty of speculation. But there are a few good reasons for that. While the CDC guidelines state that masks are no longer required for people who are fully vaccinated, there are still exceptions, and businesses can determine their own guidelines. The National Museum of African American History and Culture still requires visitors aged two and older to wear a face mask during their visits even if they have received a vaccine. The First Lady was simply following the rules.
Even though we can all breathe a little easier now as Americans continue to get vaccinated and take off our masks, we're all still in a period of transition after engaging with the world in a highly restricted way for the last year. And while vaccination is underway across the country, only one-third of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated as the pace of vaccination has slowed, according to The New York Times.
With that in mind, there's no right way to get back to living without a mask, and everyone is encouraged to do what makes them feel safest. Many epidemiologists say people should still wear masks in large outdoor crowds, like a concert or a protest, even if you're fully vaccinated, unless "the vaccination rates increase to 80 or 90 percent over the next few months," Vivian Towe, a program officer at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute told The Times.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all plan as the masks come off this summer and guidelines will likely vary by state, as they have throughout the pandemic. Some states have listed mask mandates, while others remain cautious. States led by Democrats said they were inclined to review the guidance before implementing it, for example. Meanwhile, half of the country — mostly Republican states — has already relaxed mask mandates.