CDC mask guidance opens doors for the vaccinated, but a long road is ahead for those who are not, experts say

For Americans vaccinated against Covid-19, daily life may look increasingly different than for those who aren’t inoculated yet following Thursday’s mask guidance, experts said.

“We are on the right path that people who are fully immunized,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “You can take your mask off indoors as well as outdoors.”

But he added: “We are not at the end of this story. There are still a lot of people who haven’t gotten that shot.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people fully vaccinated against Covid-19, meaning those who have waited two weeks after their second dose, generally don’t need to wear masks or practice social distancing inside or out.

For those who saw no immediate impact from receiving their vaccine, “now your life is going to change,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, adding that although some businesses like airlines may keep mask mandates in place, venues like grocery stores, restaurants, bars and bowling alleys may soon look much more like they did pre-pandemic.

The CDC’s decision may have the indirect effect of being an incentive for people who are on the fence about getting the vaccine, but it was based on the science showing how strong vaccine protection is, Fauci said.

But as a sense of normalcy resumes for those who are protected, experts warn that the risk of infection may grow for those who are not vaccinated.

“We keep thinking of this country as a vaccinated and an unvaccinated country,” CNN medical analyst Sanjay Gupta said. “What it’s slowly going to turn into is a vaccinated and an infected country.”

And without a way to verify who is vaccinated and who is not, the guidance may inhibit the US from reaching herd immunity and put those who cannot yet be vaccinated or are immuno-compromised in more danger, said CNN medical analyst Leana Wen.

“They were overly cautious and now I think they are throwing caution to the wind,” Wen said of the CDC’s guidelines.

Masks may stay on for some

But the recent change in CDC policy does not mean everyone should go mask-less.

Those who are not vaccinated are threatening their own health if they go out in public and forego the social-distancing and mask usage guidance, experts said.

And people who have compromised immune systems from situations like chemotherapy and organ transplants may not have a sufficient immune response to safely remove their masks in public, Wen said.

Although studies are ongoing for younger children, vaccines have only been approved for children as young as 12. So, those who are not yet old enough to get their doses still need to wear their masks indoors and around others, Fauci said.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that US retailers may still require patrons be masked, and the CDC still advises wearing one when traveling or using public transport.

At the end of the day, the choice to remove masks is a decision vaccinated individuals can make for themselves and some may choose not to, Fauci said.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an individual who has a certain level of risk aversion, as we know the risk is extremely low of getting infected whether you’re indoors or outdoors,” Fauci said. “But there are those people who don’t want to take that bit of a risk, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and they shouldn’t be criticized.”

Some states jump on the changes, others hold back

How the recommendations play out may depend on how state leaders respond — and their reactions have been varied.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called the latest guidance “common sense” and said the state has “already embraced this idea,” in a statement to CNN. Alabama dropped the state’s mask mandate in April.

“Alabamians are getting back to living. So, Alabama, roll up your sleeves and get the vaccine!” Ivey said.

Relaxed mask requirements went into effect immediately in Nevada, including in casinos, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office announced Thursday.

Last week, Sisolak signed a measure ordering the state’s mandates to mirror the CDC’s guidelines. The state’s critical gaming industry also will be allowed to permit guests enter casinos without masks if they choose.

But both Colorado and North Carolina officials will be reviewing the guidance before making any changes.

“It’s too early to say anything just yet,” Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France said during Thursday’s virtual press briefing.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County has decided against following the new relaxed measures for now.

While vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask in the company of other vaccinated people in uncrowded areas, everybody is still required to wear face coverings in crowded indoor and outdoor venues, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during a news conference Thursday.

“The identification of these variants and the news of spreading variants from across the globe highlights the need for L.A. County residents to continue to take measures to protect themselves and others,” Ferrer said. “This is particularly true for those who are not vaccinated and who can end up unknowingly being incubators of variants of concern.”