Nowadays the social-media platforms are filled with vaccine selfies, family reunions and information on how to get a vaccine appointment since everyone in the U.S. above 16-years-old is eligible.
Hovering over all of this are questions such as: “If I am fully vaccinated why do I still need to wear a mask?”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responded to one such tweet:
On Tuesday the CDC updated its guidance for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning they received their final vaccine dose at least two weeks ago, saying they no longer have to wear masks outdoors with both vaccinated and unvaccinated people or when dining outdoors with people from multiple households.
However, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask at crowded outdoor settings including concerts and sporting events.
They should also wear a mask indoors at places like movie theatres, airports and shopping malls but don’t need to in private indoors setting with other fully vaccinated people or an unvaccinated household.
The risk of spreading COVID in scenarios where masks aren’t needed is relatively low, according to the CDC and infectious-disease experts.
But things become dicier indoors where the risk of spreading and contracting coronavirus is considerably higher than outside where potentially viral-containing droplets have more room to disperse.
‘Being outside doesn’t magically make that risk go away.’
Still, “being outside doesn’t magically make that risk go away,” said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco.
“Fully vaccinated people can still carry the virus, but are very unlikely to get sick from it,” Dr. Victoria Ward, a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University and pediatrician, told MarketWatch.
“Overall, the risk of transmission outdoors from fully vaccinated people is extremely low. It is certainly not zero, but it is low enough that the benefits of easing the mandate outweigh the risks from a public health perspective,” she added.
‘Fully vaccinated people can still carry the virus, but are very unlikely to get sick from it.’
Given that more than 70% of the total U.S. population is not yet fully vaccinated, it’s important to keep mask-wearing the “social norm” in places like supermarkets, hair salons and airplanes, Rutherford said.
So if not now, when?
When least 60% of the population is fully vaccinated, at which point we’d be “approaching herd immunity,” states and cities could safely consider lifting mask mandates, he said.
But that likely won’t occur until children and adolescents can get vaccinated.
Rutherford expects the agency to approve the request “in the next couple of weeks.”
13 states have lifted mask mandates
Already 13 states, including Texas and New Hampshire, have lifted their state-wide mask mandates.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, lifted the state’s mask mandate in early March against advice from leading infectious-disease experts as well as President Joe Biden who labeled the move “a big mistake” that reflected “Neanderthal thinking.”
The state hasn’t seen a considerable rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases since the mask mandate was lifted, according to data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
‘The best way to be able to forget about masks is to get more people vaccinated’
That doesn’t mean it’s safe to start ditching masks completely, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said.
“Just because there isn’t a mask mandate doesn’t mean people aren’t wearing masks,” he said.
On top of voluntary mask-wearing it’s likely that many people in Texas, which has the third-highest number of deaths from coronavirus across all states, have developed “natural immunity” in addition to “vaccine-induced immunity,” Adalja told MarketWatch.
Theoretically, Adalja said it would be an “acceptable risk” to let vaccinated people forgo masks, but said it’s not “operationally possible” to separate vaccinated people from unvaccinated people to minimize the risk of spreading COVID.
Of the 55.7 million Americans who’ve been fully vaccinated, some 67% are white and non-Hispanic, as of Monday according to CDC data.
“The best way to be able to forget about masks,” Adalja said, “is to get more people vaccinated.”