Three women walk without masks along the boardwalk in Redondo Beach on Tuesday. Under new CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Pandemic Life

When do I still need to wear a mask and when can I go without? A guide to staying safe

When do I still need to wear a mask and when can I go without? Here’s how to stay safe

Despite some early mixed messages, health officials have repeatedly told Americans that wearing a face mask — both indoors and outdoors — is essential to curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

But as COVID-19 slows dramatically, that advice is changing.

People who are now fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can safely stop wearing masks in many outdoor settings, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

Masks are still recommended for everyone while in crowded outdoor settings, such as packed stadiums and concerts, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said. But the sustained pace of vaccinations — with 37% of adults nationally fully vaccinated — followed by falling coronavirus case rates nationally meant it was time to relax guidance for when to wear masks for fully vaccinated people, Walensky said, including in outdoor social gatherings such as shared meals.

Unvaccinated people should still wear masks, and keep at least six feet away from others. “We really do want people who are unvaccinated to limit the interaction with people,” Walensky said.

The new announcement eases a mask standard introduced just last month. In March, the CDC said that vaccinated people should keep their masks on if meeting with unvaccinated people from more than one household.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California would align with the CDC’s new guidance, which he called “common sense.” California’s most recent mask order, last updated in November as the state’s deadliest COVID-19 surge began and before any vaccines had been authorized, mandated that a mask generally be worn at all times when outside the home, with exceptions, such as being outdoors and maintaining six feet of distance from other people.

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Here are key points:

Fully vaccinated people no longer need masks in small outdoor gatherings

“Generally, for vaccinated people, outdoor activities without a mask are safe,” Walensky said.

“If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated — or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households — the science shows: If you’re vaccinated, you can do so safely unmasked,” Walensky said.

Asked about states that have mask requirements for people outdoors, Walensky said, “if people are vaccinated, we no longer feel that the vaccinated people require masks outdoors.”

Masks should still be worn in crowded outdoor settings until more people are vaccinated

“We continue to recommend masking in crowded outdoor settings and venues, such as packed stadiums and concerts, where there is decreased ability to maintain physical distance and where many unvaccinated people may also be present. We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved,” Walensky said.

Fully vaccinated people can do more things safely — if masked

Fully vaccinated people can now do a number of things safely — if they are masked, such as visiting a barber or hair salon; an uncrowded mall or museum; riding public transit with limited occupancy; going to a small, indoor gathering of fully vaccinated people and unvaccinated people from multiple households; going to an indoor movie theater; attending a full-capacity church service; singing in an indoor chorus; participating in an indoor, high-intensity exercise class; and eating at an indoor restaurant or bar.

Those activities, however, are less safe for unvaccinated people, even if they are masked, according to the CDC.

Activities considered “least safe” for unvaccinated people, even while masked, include attending a crowded outdoor event, like a sports event or live performance; going to an indoor movie theater; attending a full-capacity church service; singing in an indoor chorus; eating at an indoor restaurant or bar; and participating in a high-intensity exercise class.

What it means to be ‘fully vaccinated’

People are considered to be “fully vaccinated” if it has been two weeks since they have received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations, or if it has been two weeks since they have received their sole Johnson & Johnson dose.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.