COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced new guidance and recommendations for wearing masks Tuesday.
“Today is another day we can take a step back toward the normalcy of before,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Walensky was joined by the White House COVID-19 response team as she outlined some of the activities the agency now deems safe for people to participate in if they are both fully vaccinated and outdoors.
“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 are vaccinated you can do so safely unmasked,” Walensky said.
President Joe Biden highlighted the new guidance shortly after it was announced by speaking from the north lawn of the White House, an outdoor venue where he removed his mask when speaking.
“Beginning today, gathering with a group of friends in a park, going for a picnic, as long as you are vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without a mask,” he said. “While we still have a long way to go in this fight, and a lot of work to do in May and June to get us to July 4th, we’ve made stunning progress because of all of you, the American people.”
Dr. Mark Herbert, an infectious disease specialist with Mt. Carmel, praised the move.
“This is a huge advance, especially with today’s weather,” Herbert said. “It’s wonderful that we can get outside and feel freer without a mask.”
At Goodale Park, it wasn’t hard to find people who agreed with that sentiment.
“It is great to be able to go ahead and walk up and down the Short North and feel that freedom of actually just having that wind hit my face,” said Craig Nagy. “I think that’s probably the reason why a lot of people come outside, is to actually breathe the fresh air as opposed to being inside and actually having to breathe through the mask.”
“It’s nice not to have to wear it outside,” said Amy Edgar. “The breeze feels wonderful. l feel safer because I’ve been vaccinated and I’m with friends who have been vaccinated. So for me, it’s a no brainer.”
Some say they’ve even grown accustomed to the face coverings and their benefits.
“The one thing I have learned is the mask it not a bad thing,” said Phyllis Newman. “I haven’t had a cold for a year and a half. I haven’t been sick. But, when you’re outside and you’re vaccinated as we are, there’s a sense of freedom to that, not wearing a mask.”
Despite the protection they’ve provided, some say their masks have also limited their ability to interact with others.
“I like being able to nod at somebody and smile at them and actually have them see me smile at them as opposed to just them wondering what I’m thinking behind the mask,” Nagy said. “So it’s nice to be able to have facial expressions with one another. I think we can be nicer and project that niceness to one another just by simply having those masks down now.”
“You don’t know what’s going on underneath the mask,” Edgar said. “My eyes might be friendly but maybe I’m sticking my tongue out at the guy.”
The change in guidance reinforces what many doctors have been saying for month about the safety of outdoor dining and other activities.
“To be exposed to the virus, you need to have direct contact with a respiratory secretion. So these are really swept away much more easily in the out of doors,” Herbert said. “Vaccinated people can meet with groups of people out of doors in either small groups or in larger groups that are maintaining distancing.”
However, the CDC said masks should still be used in certain outdoor settings and indoors at all times possible.
“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,” Walensky said. “We know that the virus spreads very well indoors. Until more people are vaccinated and while we still have more than 50-thousand cases a day, mask use indoors will provide extra protection.”
Officials hope more people will continue to also opt-in for the protection of the vaccine.
“Even when you are talking about variants, indoors, outdoors, get vaccinated and you will certainly have a degree of protection,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director.
“For those who have not gotten their vaccination yet, especially if you’re younger, or think you don’t need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated now, now,” Biden said.