Here are highlights of what is in the bill that is expected to be signed into law by President Biden later this week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a significant step in moving the United States beyond the COVID-19 pandemic by easing indoor and outdoor mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Thursday.
The new guidance allows those who have been immunised to go mask-free in most places, the CDC announced, crediting data showing the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines that are being administered across the US. The CDC also no longer recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activity, large or small, without worrying about physical distancing,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
“We have all longed for this moment where we can get back to some semblance of normalcy, based on a continual downward trajectory pacing the scientific data on the performance of our vaccine, and our understanding of how the virus spread,” she added.
Big news from the CDC: If you’re fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask – indoors or outdoors, in most settings.
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. pic.twitter.com/XI4yPmhWaD
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 13, 2021
The CDC is still calling for masks to be worn in crowded settings such as healthcare facilities, public transportation, aeroplanes, aeroports, prisons and homeless shelters.
The CDC said fully vaccinated people should also still wear masks where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, and abide by such rules and regulations, including from local businesses and workplace guidance.
The guidance states that those who are unvaccinated or have not been fully vaccinated – those who have received only one shot of the two-shot immunization or have not reached the end of the two-week post-vaccination waiting period – still must wear masks.
“Look, we’ve gotten this far. Please protect yourself until you get to the finish line,” President Joe Biden said after the CDC announcement. “As great as this announcement is today, we don’t want to let up.”
The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.
The choice is yours.
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 13, 2021
The easing guidance could open the door to confusion, as there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those fully vaccinated and those who are not.
In late April, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without wearing masks but it recommended continuing to use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required.
The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
The new guidance comes as the aggressive US vaccination campaign begins to pay off. US virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.
To date about 154 million Americans, more than 46 percent of the population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines and more than 117 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, but with the authorisation Wednesday of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15, a new burst of doses is expected in the coming days.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday on vaccinations with a bipartisan group of governors, Biden appeared to acknowledge that his administration had to do more to model the benefits of vaccination.
“I would like to say that we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, told Biden. “And that’s a big motivation get the unvaccinated to want to to get vaccinated.”
“Good point,” Biden responded. He added, “we’re going to be moving on that in the next little bit.”