May 13, 2021

We have all longed for this moment’: Federal guidance says vaccinated Americans may go without masks.

[The New York Times]

Federal health officials on Thursday advised Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus that they could stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance in most settings, the clearest sign yet that the pandemic might be nearing an end in the United States.

The new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught state officials and businesses by surprise and raised a host of difficult questions about how the guidelines would be carried out. But the advice came as welcome news to many Americans who were weary of restrictions and traumatized by the past year.

“We have all longed for this moment,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news conference on Thursday. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

Masks had come to symbolize a bitter partisan divide. Setting them aside in restaurants and sidewalks, in museums and shops, would represent not just the beginning of the end of the pandemic but hope for a return to normalcy.

Permission to stop using masks also offers an incentive to the many millions who are still holding out on vaccination. As of Thursday, about 155 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only about one-third of the nation, 119 million people, had been fully vaccinated.

And the pace of vaccination has slowed: Providers are administering about 2.09 million doses per day on average, about a 38 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported in mid-April.

At the White House on Thursday, President Biden hailed the new recommendations as a “milestone” in the nation’s effort to beat back the pandemic and urged Americans to roll up their sleeves for vaccinations.

While there may well be scientific justification for the guidelines, they raised a host of questions for which there are no easy answers: How to trust that unvaccinated neighbors will wear masks when they should? What about younger children, for whom no vaccinations have been authorized, and schools? Is it possible to enforce such guidelines?

New recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come as welcome news for many Americans, but have also created confusion.

By Roni Caryn Rabin, Apoorva Mandavilli and Noah Weiland

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