- The latest CDC guidance has relaxed the requirement to wear a mask for people who are fully vaccinated.
- However, it’s still important to wear masks in certain higher-risk situations.
- Continuing to wear a mask helps protect those around us and ourselves.
According to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you’re fully vaccinated for COVID-19, you can safely resume many of the activities that you were not able to do previously.
However, there are situations when you would still need to mask up.
Here’s what you need to know about when, where, and why you may need to continue to wear a mask.
To know whether you’re fully vaccinated, it’s important to know which type of vaccine you received.
For vaccines like the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are given in two doses, you’re considered to be fully vaccinated 2 weeks after you receive the second dose.
For Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is given in a single dose, you’re considered to be fully vaccinated 2 weeks after you receive that dose.
Until you complete the required 2-week waiting period, you’re not considered to be fully vaccinated and must continue to follow all precautions, including wearing a mask.
It’s also important to note that, if you have any medical condition or are taking any medication that weakens your immune system, you’re not considered to be fully protected even if you’re fully vaccinated. In this case, you need to continue to wear a mask in all situations.
Speak with your physician if you’re unsure whether you fit this description.
According to Dr. S. Wesley Long, a researcher at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, any time you’re in public, with people whose vaccination status you don’t know, it’s a good idea to wear a mask.
If you’re in a crowded area or large gathering, masking is also a good idea.
“Although most data suggests vaccinated individuals are unlikely to transmit the virus if infected, if you are spending time with high-risk or immunocompromised individuals, it would be good to wear a mask to help protect them as well,” Long said.
As far as specific locations where you should continue to wear a mask, Long said it’s basically any indoor environment where you’re around people who may not be vaccinated or who are not from your own household, especially if it’s not possible to maintain physical distance.
Work, school, planes, restaurants, grocery stores, or other retail establishments would all be examples of places where you would want to continue to wear masks, said Long.
Dr. Shruti Gohil, MPH, an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine in the division of infectious diseases, department of medicine, UCI School of Medicine, said, “The larger public health goal is to limit transmissions at a population level.”
Vaccination is one strategy for achieving this goal, she said.
However, until community prevalence is low enough, we must all continue to wear masks indoors.
While this might seem counterintuitive, given that a vaccinated individual is well protected, Gohil said there are good reasons why people should continue to mask.
Firstly, she explained, there’s a small chance, in the range of 4 to 5 percent, that a vaccinated person could still become sick and be able to transmit the virus to someone else.
Secondly, there’s no way to know at a glance who is fully vaccinated. If we loosen masking criteria for some and not others, this can become very confusing and lead to unvaccinated people thinking they no longer need to wear masks, she said. Having a simple rule to follow protects the public at large.
“I have no doubt that when prevalence levels become low enough, masking requirements will loosen,” she added. “The CDC has already loosened criteria for vaccinated individuals to be able to engage with others who are vaccinated without masks.”
While the CDC has relaxed its recommendations for mask wearing among fully vaccinated people, it remains important to wear them to protect the people around you.
You should continue to wear masks in indoor locations, crowded areas, and places with people outside your household whose vaccination status is unknown.
You should also mask up if you come in frequent contact with people who are high risk or immunocompromised.
Experts say it will remain important to wear masks, even after being vaccinated, until the prevalence of the disease has been greatly reduced.