EXPLAINER: Do I still have to wear a mask? What about kids?
The government’s new guidance on masks for vaccinated people has left some Americans confused and sent businesses and states scrambling to adjust their rules.
Target and CVS on Monday became the latest retailers to say vaccinated shoppers and workers don’t have to wear masks in stores. New York said it will adopt the new mask advice this week, while California said it will wait a month.
About 123 million Americans — 37% of the population — are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, and more than 157 million, or 47%, have received at least one dose.
WHAT’S THE NEW ADVICE?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors and can stop social distancing in most places. Fully vaccinated means two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
“If you are vaccinated, we are saying you are safe, you can take off your mask, and you are not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from COVID-19,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If you are not vaccinated, you are not safe. Please go get vaccinated or continue to wear your mask.”
ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS?
Yes. The CDC says everyone — vaccinated or unvaccinated — should continue to wear a mask in certain places. Masks are still required on public transportation — buses, trains and planes — and in other settings like hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. Some states and businesses and stores are dropping their mask rules for fully vaccinated people because of the CDC change, while others are keeping them in place. California is waiting until next month to give the public and businesses time to prepare.
WHY THE CHANGE?
The CDC director says there was new science in recent weeks that supported easing the advice on masks and social distancing. She said there was new evidence that COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world settings, are effective against virus variants and prevent the spread of the virus. In announcing the new advice, she also cited the drop in infections in the U.S., the wide availability of vaccines and the expansion to ages 12 and up for the shots.
“I want to be clear that we followed the science here,” she said at a White House briefing.
WHAT ABOUT KIDS?
Children who haven’t been vaccinated should still wear masks and keep 6 feet apart. The CDC recommends masks for children age 2 and older in public settings and when with people outside their household. Masks are also advised in schools. That won’t change for the rest of this school year and “we’ll be working on school guidance for the fall,” Walensky said on Fox. Child care and camp guidance will also be updated, she said.
She noted that some children may not understand why they have to wear a mask if the rest of the family isn’t. “I think that that’s going to have to be a family by family decision,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
CAN I STILL WEAR A MASK ANYWAY?
Sure. Even though the guidance has changed, “there’s no need for everybody to start ripping off their masks,” Walensky said on NBC.
“Those behaviors are going to be really hard to change, and there is no mandate to take it off,” she said. “What we’re saying is, now this is safe.”
WHO’S GOING TO BE CHECKING?
In general, there’s no system yet for checking vaccination records of those not wearing masks. Schools, businesses and other places may require proof of vaccination. The federal government has no plans for a “vaccine passport.”
“What we are really asking the American people to do is to be honest with themselves and to not remove their masks until they are safe,” Walensky said on Fox.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.