May 14, 2021 - Health

New CDC mask guidance tests risk tolerance

Illustration of facemasks hanging in a tree.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The CDC announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors.

Why it matters: The U.S. is entering a new stage in the pandemic where the public — vaccinated or not — will need to assess its own risk tolerance in shared spaces.

The big picture: Despite emerging evidence that vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus, the mass inability to validate vaccinations may be enough for some to keep their masks on in crowded or indoor spaces for a while longer.

What's happening: Most states have already lifted mandates or are planning to. Grocery stores or restaurants, at least in some regions, will likely still require some mask use until more people are vaccinated.

Yes, but: Less mask-wearing by vaccinated government officials and vaccinated people overall could reinforce the message to the hesitant that vaccines will speed the return to normalcy Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins, tells Axios.

  • "People's perception that vaccines change nothing is a hindrance to their willingness to get vaccinated," she said.

The other side: "It's clear that outdoor activity is safe without masks and distancing, but indoor venues still pose risks," Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Georgetown University Law Center, said in a statement.

  • "The difference between a supermarket, a restaurant or a gym (where masks aren't required) and an airport (where they are) doesn't make sense and isn't supported by science."

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