US lifts indoor mask guidance for vaccinated people
The top US health agency on Thursday said it was lifting mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a watershed moment that President Joe Biden called "a great day" in the long pandemic fight.
The announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention marked an abrupt turnaround after more than a year of urging people to cover their faces to stem the spread.
"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing.
"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic."
In an emotional address from the White House, Biden declared a major victory in the battle against the virus that has seen more than 580,000 Americans die.
"I think it's a great milestone, a great day," he said.
The move sparked joyful reactions in some, but others experienced whiplash and said they would continue to wear their masks out of caution.
"I'm still going to wear a mask inside," said Mubarak Dahir, a 57-year-old tourist in the capital Washington who was visiting from Florida. "I think it's premature. It's a little dangerous to believe that we are that far already."
But Desmond, a 67-year-old in Lafayette Square, said: "It's great news... we have come a long way in 14 months!"
Accumulating data shows the extremely high efficacy of authorized vaccines, not just to prevent symptomatic COVID-19 but also asymptomatic infection and onward transmission.
Almost 60 percent of US adults now have one or more doses, while cases are falling fast, down to a seven-day average of 38,000 or 11 per 100,000.
And on Thursday, the campaign to vaccinate adolescents aged 12 to 15 began in earnest following the authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in this age group.
According to the CDC's website, masks may still be required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in US transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
Fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in the United States still need to get tested within three days of their flight, or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months.
Walensky said people who are immune compromised should talk to their doctor before giving up their mask. Finally, she added, the guidance was subject to change if the situation worsens.