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New CDC Guide: Is It Really Safe To Take Your Mask Off?

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift most indoor and outdoor mask requirements came as a surprise to some despite declining numbers of COVID-19 infections across the country .

Under the new guidelines, anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

The changes announced Thursday do not immediately change the mask rules in California. But they raised questions.

Here are some answers:

What is the situation in California?

California has strict mask rules consistent with previous CDC mask guidelines, and officials said they would remain in effect at least for now as they review the new recommendations.

The state and county of Los Angeles will review the federal recommendations in order to “make judicious adjustments to the prescriptions currently in effect,” said LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health mask requirements for businesses – including restaurants and supermarkets – remain in effect.

“Because it is always important to protect workers at all work sites, and all work sites must meet the requirements set out by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, we ask everyone to continue to adhere to the required distance and masking in the workplace until Cal-OSHA changes these requirements, ”said Ferrer.

It may take a week or more for substantial changes to mask wearing orders to take effect locally. Cal-OSHA will then meet on May 20 to discuss statewide guidance, and the county changes would be no less restrictive than state mandates.

Federal officials have said more specific rules governing masks in places such as businesses, schools and other settings where it can be difficult to determine who is or is not vaccinated will likely be determined at the local level.

California rules, last updated on May 3, generally require that masks be worn by everyone indoors every time outside the home, with exceptions, such as when a no one is outside a workplace and everyone inside is vaccinated, or when there are only members of an unvaccinated household is present and everyone has a low risk of complications serious cases of COVID-19.

Unvaccinated people should also wear masks outside when they cannot keep six feet away from someone else. Fully vaccinated people should wear masks in crowded outdoor environments, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals and sporting events.

What about being surrounded by unvaccinated people?

If California begins to allow fully vaccinated people not to have masks in stores, who would check to see if those without masks are actually vaccinated? Will supermarkets really check the vaccine cards at the entrance?

“There is good science to support our policy change,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, Clinical Professor Emeritus in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “On the other hand, I’m surprised they got out of it so quickly. I wish I had another month under my belt to see the numbers continue to drop.

“I don’t see any grocery stores confirming that you are vaccinated. It just won’t happen, ”Swartzberg said.

However, the new guidelines work best if people follow the rules – and unvaccinated people don’t lose their masks until they’re fully vaccinated, which comes two weeks after the last dose of a vaccine is given.

“I may see having to show vaccination cards to enter theaters or restaurants,” said Dr George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco. “Private companies can enforce vaccination requirements.”

It is also unclear whether some retailers will keep their mask rules despite the CDC’s changes, although this appears to be the case, as representatives from Kroger, Home Depot and Starbucks say they will adhere to their current policies requiring that buyers and employees wear masks.

According to CDC guidelines, when should you still wear a mask?

Under federal leadership, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people are still encouraged to wear masks in almost all indoor environments and most outdoor locations when interacting with people outside their homes who may not be vaccinated. (Members of the same household of unvaccinated people may be maskless indoors if everyone is vaccinated, and may skip masks during small outdoor gatherings with other unvaccinated people.)

The CDC’s order that requires masks to be worn by all who travel on public transport, including buses and trains, as well as at airports and train stations, remains in effect.

What are the experts saying?

The change came as a surprise to some, although there were growing concerns that the CDC mask rules were too strict as COVID-19 infections wane.

Experts generally supported the idea, but there were some concerns.

“I am very happy that we have reached this momentous moment where those who are fully vaccinated can now return to practically pre-pandemic activities without worrying about the disease,” said UCLA medical epidemiologist Dr. Robert. Kim-Farley. “However, they still need to realize that if they are surrounded by unvaccinated people who may be vulnerable – the elderly, people with health problems – they still need to be cautious in this context.”

Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, was among the experts who urged the CDC to act faster to lift the mask guidelines and was surprised at how quickly federal authorities have acted Thursday. She welcomed the news and said science was behind the new recommendations.

She said the advice on lifting masks for fully vaccinated people would provide an incentive for those who may have delayed the vaccine.

“People need incentives now,” Gandhi said. “I think it will help the people who are on the fence to get their shots.”

But Dr Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, concerned that the CDC’s decision allows people who never wanted to be vaccinated or wear masks to enter stores now without a face mask – increasing the risk for people who cannot be vaccinated, such as underage children to be vaccinated, or immunocompromised people who are not fully protected by the vaccine.

“We are now putting them at risk and I think we can go even further to achieve collective immunity,” Wen told CNN.

Ferrer noted that the CDC’s guidelines were not communicated to the LA County Department of Public Health in advance.

“We are very much in favor of the fact that vaccines are highly protective and that people who are fully vaccinated, in fact, do not need to adhere to the same safety precautions as those who are not fully vaccinated,” Ferrer mentioned.

“But it’s that big question of making sure that by doing that … we don’t have the unintended consequence of creating more risk at a time when we’re really trying to move forward on the road to recovery.”

What about travel?

Here are the CDC’s advice:

Domestic travel (in the United States or to a United States territory)

  • Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 virus before or after domestic travel, unless testing is required by local, state, or territorial health authorities.
  • Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine after domestic travel.
  • For more information, see Domestic travel during COVID-19.

International travel

  • Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to be tested before leaving the United States, unless their destination requires it.
  • Fully vaccinated air travelers coming from overseas to the United States, including US citizens, should always have a negative SARS-CoV-2 viral test result or COVID-19 recovery documentation before boarding an aircraft. flight to the United States.
  • It is always recommended that international travelers arriving in the United States have a SARS-CoV-2 viral test three to five days after travel, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Fully vaccinated travelers do not need to self-quarantine in the United States after international travel.
  • For more information, see International travel during COVID-19.

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