Vaccinated Americans can now remove masks outdoors: CDC

President Joe Biden said the US will be “close to normal” by July 4, when the nation celebrates its Independence Day.

CDC officials said new COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths have been on the decline over the past week [Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]

Fully vaccinated people in the United States can now safely go out in public without having to wear a mask, unless they are attending a crowded venue, health officials and the US president announced on Tuesday.

In newly updated guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said fully vaccinated Americans can walk, bike, socialise or dine in an outdoor restaurant without having to wear a mask.

The update marks a change since the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks when outdoors since last year.

The CDC defines vaccinated individuals as being two weeks post having taken both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine [Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

“Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends in a park going for a picnic, as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors you can do it without a mask,” US President Joe Biden said during remarks on Tuesday.

Biden said he has set a target date of July 4th, the nation’s Independence Day to get the country “close to normal” and “celebrate independence from the virus.”

“While we still have a long way to go in this fight,” Biden said, “we’ve made stunning progress,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky announced that fully vaccinated people – defined as being two weeks post having taken both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine –  can partake in outdoor social activities without having to wear a mask.

“There are many situations where fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask, particularly if they are outdoors,” Walensky said at a news briefing.

“If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated or dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households,” Walensky said, “the science shows if you are vaccinated you can do so safely unmasked.”

But she added that the CDC recommends that Americans continue to wear masks outdoors when attending crowded venues.

“Generally, for vaccinated people outdoor activities without a mask are safe,” she said, “however we continue to recommend masking in crowded outdoor settings and venues such as packed stadiums and concerts.”

In recent weeks schools have been gradually shifting to in-person learning across much of the country [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

The new announcement comes amid sustained progress in the nation’s vaccination campaign. The CDC says more than half of all adults have received one dose, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

On April 19, all adults became eligible for a vaccine across the country. But many states had already opened up vaccinations to all those aged 16 and over prior to that date.

The CDC still recommends that vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks at indoor public places, such as restaurants, offices and movie theatres.

The updated guidelines mark a significant change in a country where over 572,000 have died from the disease, ranking number one in the world.  Walensky on Tuesday said that the number of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths have all been on the decline in the last week.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies