CDC: Vaccinated People Don't Need Masks in Small Groups Outdoors

Brenda Goodman

April 27, 2021

After hinting that new guidelines on outdoor mask wearing were coming, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today officially gave a green light to letting fully vaccinated people engage in uncrowded outdoor activities without wearing masks.

"Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a White House press briefing. "Today, I'm going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated."

President Joe Biden affirmed the new guidelines at a press conference soon after the CDC briefing ended.

"Starting today, if you are fully vaccinated and you're outdoors and not in a big crowd, you no longer need to wear a mask," he said, adding "the bottom line is clear: If you're vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors."

Biden emphasized the role science played in the decision, saying, "The CDC is able to make this announcement because our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low if you've both been fully vaccinated and are out in the open air."

Biden also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated. "This is another great reason to go get vaccinated now. Now," he said.

The CDC has long advised that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities.

"Most of transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors. Less than 10% of documented transmissions in many studies have occurred outdoors," Walensky added. "We also know there's almost a 20-fold increased risk of transmission in the indoor setting than the outdoor setting."

Walensky said the lower risks associated with outdoor settings, combined with growing vaccination coverage and falling COVID cases around the country, motivated the change.

The new guidelines come as the share of people in the United States who are vaccinated is growing. About 37% of all eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Nearly 54% have had at least one dose. 

Vaccinated and Unvaccinated

The new guidelines say that unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks outdoors when gathering with others or dining at an outdoor restaurant.

And vaccinated people should continue to wear masks outdoors in crowded settings where social distancing might not always be possible, like a concert or sporting event. People are considered fully vaccinated when they are either 2 weeks past their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

The CDC guidelines say people who live in the same house don't need to wear masks if they're exercising or hanging out together outdoors. You also don't need a mask if you're attending a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends, whether you're vaccinated or not.

The new guidelines say its okay for fully vaccinated people to take their masks off outdoors when gathering in a small group of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, exercising, or traveling within the US, but suggest that unvaccinated people should still wear a mask.

They also say it's okay for fully vaccinated people to eat at outdoor restaurants without masks when in the company of family or friends who may or may not be vaccinated. Eating at a restaurant, even if outside, is still considered less safe for people who aren't vaccinated.

The CDC advises everyone to wear masks when attending crowded outdoor events like street festivals, parades, or concerts.

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