No masks required for fully vaccinated people: Here’s what you need to know
On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control updated their COVID-19 prevention guidelines to state that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, except where required by federal, state, and local laws and regulations (see below for specific exceptions). Governor Ralph Northam has aligned statewide guidance with the CDC’s announcement, meaning that any fully vaccinated person can choose to do most activities indoors or outdoors without a mask. This is a major change in public health guidance that may raise questions for many people after a long year of being urged and required to wear a mask in most settings, but Richmond and Henrico Health Districts have you covered: read on for a breakdown of why this change happened and what you can expect going forward.
Why did the CDC make this change now? How do they know we are ready?
More than 120,000,000 Americans have already received the COVID vaccine, and case counts are falling to record lows around the US and here in Central Virginia. All of the currently authorized vaccines are effective at preventing vaccinated people from contracting COVID-19, and are highly effective at protecting against severe infection that results in hospitalization or death. A growing body of evidence also suggests the vaccine reduces your chances of spreading the virus to others. Altogether, these findings indicate that fully vaccinated people are safe without a mask in most outdoor and indoor settings. However, unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask in most indoor and some outdoor settings as directed by the CDC.
How will I know if the unmasked people around me have been vaccinated?
The truth is… you can’t know, but that’s the beauty of the COVID vaccine! It offers the same protection regardless of whether the people around you have been vaccinated. Certainly, though, if you are concerned about your risk of exposure in public places, there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing to wear a mask and maintaining social distancing to protect yourself and others. Also, regardless of whether you choose to wear a mask or not after vaccination, you should continue those good hygiene practices (hand washing, etc.) that COVID drilled into us.
Are there any settings where people are still required to wear a mask after vaccination?
Yes, there are some exceptions:
- Healthcare: All staff, patients, and visitors should still plan to wear masks in healthcare settings. This is a CDC guideline and will likely be the same here in Virginia or if you travel to another place in the U.S.
- Public Transit: Plan to continue wearing a mask whenever you are not eating or drinking on buses, trains, and commercial flights. (CDC Guideline)
- Congregate Settings: Plan to continue wearing a mask in facilities where many people live in close quarters such as senior living communities, detention centers, homeless shelters, and group homes. (CDC Guideline)
- Schools: Since children under 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated, public and private schools in Virginia will still require staff, students, and visitors to wear masks on school property.
- Private businesses with continuing mask rules: Private businesses may choose to require all staff or visitors to wear masks even after federal and state guidelines have changed. Just in case, carry a mask with you should you need it.
- Travel: Plan to wear a mask while traveling by bus/train/plane, but make sure you also check the local mask guidelines for your destination. Some places are still experiencing higher case counts and community spread and may have stricter mask requirements in place temporarily.
What are some reasons people might decide to keep wearing a mask?
People with medical conditions that weaken their immune systems may need to continue wearing masks and social distancing even after vaccination. That’s because we just don’t have enough data yet on how protective vaccination is for people with these conditions.
Any other person can still opt to wear a mask while we are in a state of emergency —for lots of different reasons! Maybe you want a little bit of extra protection, or maybe you want to show solidarity with children who can’t yet get vaccinated or immunocompromised adults who still need to wear a mask, or maybe you’re just used to wearing a mask and feel more comfortable in a crowded grocery store with it on. You can also choose to wear a mask in some situations but not in others (for example, when an area is particularly crowded or indoors with poor ventilation). You are welcome to continue wearing a mask in any indoor or outdoor setting after you have been vaccinated.
If I own a business, am I free to continue requiring my customers to wear a mask?
Any private business can continue requiring masks for all customers. If you are concerned that customers may not want to observe your mask rule in light of the new CDC guidelines, consider offering curbside service for anyone who prefers not to wear a mask.
How soon after being vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask?
People who receive the vaccine should continue to wear it until two weeks after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
What will happen if unvaccinated people decide to stop wearing masks too now that the mask mandate has been lifted?
To be honest, we aren’t sure yet what the effect may be if unvaccinated people decide not to wear masks—it’s possible that we may lose the ground we’ve gained and see an increase in case counts and a need to return to mandatory masking and social distancing. Hopefully most people will either choose to be vaccinated or continue to wear a mask whenever necessary. What we do know is that the vaccine offers excellent protection, so if you are vaccinated, you will be well-protected regardless of the choices others may make.
If you have friends or family who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, especially children under 12, make sure they continue to wear a mask whenever necessary and that they receive the vaccine as soon as possible once they are eligible. Continue also to reach out to friends, family, and neighbors who are eligible but haven’t yet chosen to be vaccinated to encourage them to get the vaccine. We are making huge progress in our fight against the pandemic, but we need many more people to be vaccinated to ensure we all stay as safe as possible.
How can I get the COVID vaccine?
Richmond and Henrico Health Districts are continuing to offer vaccination events across our region, including walkup and popup events to make getting vaccinated as easy as possible. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, there are plenty of easy ways to make it happen ASAP.
For more info about COVID-19 prevention and available vaccines, call the Richmond and Henrico COVID-19 Hotline at (804) 205-3501.