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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.

  • "The risk is extremely low of getting infected if you’re vaccinated," NIAID director Anthony Fauci said. But, "there are those people who don’t want to take that risk and they shouldn’t be criticized."

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.

  • As of Wednesday, about 154 million people have received at least one dose, but only about 117 million people have been fully vaccinated.
  • As the public awaits more guidance on travel and schools, decisions on whether to lift mask policies may come down to the local and county level, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

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 the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Axios.

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

What they're saying: "Personal responsibility is nonetheless still critical to ensure we finally fully control the pandemic as soon and effectively as possible so we can all soon enjoy a fully open society and economy," Luis Schang, a molecular virologist at Cornell University, said.

The other side: "It's clear that outdoor activity is safe without masks and distancing, but indoor venues still pose risks," 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."

Go deeper

Aug 20, 2021 - Health

NYPD: Unvaccinated officers must wear masks or face discipline

Photo: Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

Unvaccinated officers at the New York Police Department will be required to wear masks on duty or face disciplinary action, the department confirmed Friday.

Why it matters: Public and private entities are increasingly considering reinstating mask mandates amid a surge in Delta cases. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that all city employees, including law enforcement, must get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Aug 20, 2021 - Health

CDC recommends COVID-19 high-risk groups avoid cruise ships

Royal Caribbean cruise ship is seen on the Hudson River in New York City. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said that travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from the coronavirus should avoid traveling on cruises.

State of play: The CDC also said that individuals who are not fully vaccinated should avoid taking cruises. Additionally, unvaccinated passengers should self-quarantine for at least seven days after cruise travel, even if they test negative.

Aug 20, 2021 - Health

FDA expected to grant full approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine next week

Vial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine early next week, sources told Axios on Friday.

Why it matters: It would be the first COVID-19 shot to receive full authorization from the federal government.