🔒 CDC declares once vaccinated, masks can go – With insights from The Wall Street Journal

I haven’t been paying as much attention to Covid-19 data as in the early days of the pandemic when SA infections ranked in the world’s top 10. But after yesterday’s announcement by American authorities ending social distancing and masks for the vaccinated, I took another look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus data for an update. SA is down to 21st on infections and far lower on deaths. Interesting, too, is that the global mortality peak is behind us (see above) with worldwide coronavirus deaths at 3.3m – around 5% of the 60m people who die every year. The CDC story from our partners at the Wall Street Journal is below. – Alec Hogg

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Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Face Masks and End Physical Distancing in Most Settings, CDC Says

People who have been fully vaccinated should still follow precautions in doctor’s offices, airports and nursing homes, the agency recommends

Updated May 13, 2021 7:43 pm ET

Fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance during outdoor or indoor activities, large or small, federal health officials said, the broadest easing of pandemic recommendations so far.

The fully vaccinated should continue to wear a mask while traveling by plane, bus or train, and the guidance doesn’t apply to certain places such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The fully protected can, however, resume doing many of the things they had to give up because of the coronavirus pandemic, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.

“We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Dr. Walensky said. “That moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”

The CDC considers people fully vaccinated either two weeks after receiving their second dose of an mRNA vaccine, such as the one from Pfizer Inc. PFE 1.03% and partner BioNTech SE BNTX -2.87% or Moderna Inc., MRNA -1.84% or two weeks after getting the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

The agency said it was making the revisions based on the latest science indicating that being fully vaccinated cuts the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus to others, in addition to preventing severe disease and death.

One recent study among healthcare workers in Israel estimated that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 97% effective against symptomatic infection and 86% effective against asymptomatic infection.

The recent clearance of the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation for adolescents 12 to 15 years old, the wider availability of vaccines, and current case counts also informed the decision, Dr. Walensky said.

Unvaccinated people remain at risk, Dr. Walensky said, and should continue to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The agency’s update further relaxes guidelines for vaccinated people as Covid-19 cases in the U.S. continue to drop. It comes as the CDC faces criticism from some public-health experts as being too cautious in easing pandemic precautions.

The new recommendations would further move the U.S. away from the lockdown measures and strict precautions that marked earlier stages of the pandemic and toward a fuller reopening. Many states have been easing requirements for face-mask-wearing and other measures, while people have started returning to restaurants and other public venues.

Shortly after the CDC announcement, the White House sent an email to staff telling them that masks were no longer required on campus for those who have been fully vaccinated, a White House official said.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris came out to the White House Rose Garden without wearing masks, and neither put one on again after their remarks. Mr. Biden said the revisions marked a milestone, but cautioned there was still more work needed to finish off the pandemic.

“Look, we’ve gotten this far,” Mr. Biden said. “Please protect yourself until you get to the finish line. Because as great as this announcement is today, we don’t want to let up.”

Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) whipped off their masks and yelled “Freedom” after the news broke.

“It really struck me that I didn’t have to be wearing my mask, so I literally took it off and threw it up into the air,” Ms. Collins said later. “There was this sense of freedom and relief that I think reflects something deeper. I think that our elation reflects what a hard year it has been for our country, and this was just a symbol of that.”

On the Senate floor, C-Span cameras captured Ms. Ernst pointing at her bare face and now-visible grin.

“Free at last,” declared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), an assiduous mask-wearer throughout the pandemic, as he left the Hill, now maskless.

The relaxation of recommendations was welcomed by scientists who said the CDC could have moved more quickly updating its guidance based on the available data, as well as people who had grown tired of the agency’s strict recommendations.

Yet the move could complicate public-health efforts to curb the pandemic and stay ahead of variants given that a sizable percentage of Americans aren’t fully vaccinated. One challenge: encouraging people who aren’t fully protected to follow the precautions.

“To a large degree, it goes to an honor system,” said Vivek Cherian, an internal-medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System.

More than 35% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, and over 46% of the population has received at least one dose.

In Mississippi, which has 25% of its residents fully vaccinated, the lowest rate in the country, health officials were quick to warn people to continue to wear masks, despite the guidance.

“It still makes sense in my perspective in crowded indoor circumstances for everyone to wear masks,” said Thomas Dobbs, state health officer for Mississippi. “Mostly because you don’t know who’s not vaccinated. And we’re still at risk. I’m personally not comfortable doing it, and I think it still makes sense for Mississippi indoors, in crowded circumstances especially.”

When asked about settings where it is unclear whether or not people were vaccinated, Dr. Walensky said, “If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected. It is the people who are not fully vaccinated in those settings who might not be wearing a mask who are not protected.”

Some businesses might not adopt the recommendations quickly, as a large number of people aren’t fully vaccinated, local mask mandates might vary and companies want to protect their workers. Kroger Co. , the nation’s biggest supermarket chain, said it would continue to require people to wear masks and encourage social distancing. The company said it is asking for feedback from employees as it reviews safety practices and the latest CDC guidance.

Still, the relaxed mandate might allow bigger crowds to form. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Chapek said he expects to see “an immediate increase” in the number of people allowed inside Disney’s domestic theme parks. “Today’s guidance,” he said, “is very big news for us, particularly if anyone has been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on.”

Jeep maker Stellantis NV said it would continue to mandate the use of masks at its facilities “for the foreseeable future as they have been proven to protect our employees.”

Sanderson Farms Inc., a Mississippi-based company that processes more than 13 million chickens each week in plants from North Carolina to Texas, doesn’t plan to relax requirements for masks, face shields, temperature checks and social distancing among its roughly 17,000 employees.

Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said Sanderson has decided its safety protocols based on recommendations from the CDC as well as its own medical staff and outside health professionals. “Throughout the pandemic, our practice has been to go with the most conservative voice in the room,” Mr. Cockrell said.

The CDC also gave some caveats. The recommendations don’t apply, the agency said, to healthcare settings including doctor’s offices; while traveling on planes, trains and buses and in transportation hubs such as airports and train stations; correctional facilities and homeless shelters. People who are immune compromised should speak to their doctors to help determine whether to keep masking, Dr. Walensky said.

The agency also said the fully vaccinated should wear masks when required by federal and local officials and by individual businesses and workplaces.

“There’s what the science says, there’s what logistics we have, and there’s what people feel comfortable doing,” said Zoë McLaren, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Those are three very different things, and the CDC is trying to balance all of those things.”

Those who develop symptoms, even when vaccinated, should put on a mask and get tested right away, Dr. Walensky said.

In April, the CDC had relaxed its mask guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, saying that inoculated people didn’t need to wear masks outside while alone or in small groups.

The CDC said it would continue to update its guidance as more evidence emerges and more people get vaccinated.

The guidance might also have to change again if the pandemic worsens in the U.S., Dr. Walensky said.

Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been dropping in the U.S. in recent weeks. The seven-day moving average of cases fell to 36,800 as of May 11, down 23% from the prior week’s average, Dr. Walensky said.