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What Fully-Vaccinated People Should Know Before Going Maskless Outside

couple taking off masks after bike ride

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC is relaxing outdoor mask-wearing recommendations for fully-vaccinated people.
  • Fully-vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, except at crowded events and venues.
  • Before going maskless, consider the vaccination status of people close to you. They may still be at risk for COVID-19, and you still may able to transmit it.

Fully-vaccinated people can spend time outdoors without face masks, according to new guidance released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control in Prevention (CDC).

Apart from inherently crowded events, like outdoor concerts, sporting events, or parades, the guidelines say outdoor activities are low-risk without a mask once you’re immunized. 

When Are You Considered Fully Vaccinated?

  • Two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer, Moderna)
  • Two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson)

The CDC says some maskless outdoor activities are safe whether you’re vaccinated or not, like exercising outdoors with members of your household.

Vaccinated people have extra protection and can drop the mask in situations where other people can’t, like at a small outdoor gathering with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, or at an outdoor restaurant with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

cdc outdoor mask guidelines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to Jessica Shepherd, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health, the reason why boils down to how we’ve come to learn SARS-CoV-2 viral transmission works. 

"Prior to vaccinations, studies showed that less than 10% of documented COVID-19 transmission occurred outdoors, and you had almost a 20-fold increased risk of contracting COVID-19 indoors without a mask," she says. The respiratory droplets responsible for spreading the virus have a harder time circulating outdoors, even if they're small enough to become airborne.

Shepherd explains that when you add vaccines into the equation, that 10% risk of outdoor transmission is diminished even further.

"Even if vaccinated people do get exposed to COVID-19 outdoors, their risk of severe illness is negligible," she says. "We can allow for these low-risk daily occurrences that couldn’t happen without a mask happen before vaccines. It was the whole point of pushing vaccinations so much."

Indoor Activities Still Require a Mask

When it comes to indoor activities, the CDC guidance still encourages everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear a mask. But the risk of contracting COVID-19 indoors is still dramatically lower for those who are vaccinated, whether they’re doing something like going to the movies or participating in a workout class.

CDC indoor activities with mask

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Assess Your Personal Situation Before Ditching the Mask

While the CDC's latest guidance is the result of extensive research and risk analysis, the broad recommendations might not be right for your situation, even if you are fully vaccinated.

"This is where personal judgment comes in," Shepherd says. "Are vaccination rates high in your community? Are people protected? You know your neighborhood."

You may also opt to wear a mask outdoors if you're with people who are still at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

"Who are you immediately surrounded by in your household—are they vaccinated or not? Do they have comorbidities for COVID-19 complications?" Shepherd asks. "Even if you're vaccinated, you could potentially still transmit COVID to them."

Shepherd also acknowledges that after a year of wearing masks and being vigilant, you might not be ready to stop.

"The last year has been traumatizing," she says. "People who are vaccinated may still decide to wear masks outside out of an abundance of caution. Whether you continue to wear a mask outdoors after vaccination or can't wait to take it off—there should be no shame either way. We have the opportunity to set a precedent around what social etiquette looks like with masks moving forward. It's important to respond to one another's decisions with grace."

What This Means For You

While you can stop wearing a mask outdoors if you're fully vaccinated, you don't have to. Consider your personal risk for COVID-19 exposure, the risk of those around you, and of course, your own comfort level of not wearing a mask. These new CDC guidelines highlight that it's finally safe to move around more freely outside when your'e ready to.

What Else Can Fully-Vaccinated People Do?

In addition to detailing what people can do without masks, the CDC has issued guidance for other things fully-vaccinated people can do:

  • You can resume domestic travel without getting tested or quarantining. 
  • You can travel internationally without testing before you leave or quarantining when you return (unless the destination country stipulates otherwise).
  • If you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine or get tested unless you have symptoms.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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