Last week’s guidance from the CDC that face masks and social distancing are no longer required for fully vaccinated people in most indoor and outdoor settings is based on multiple studies that confirm what we have long hoped for: the new vaccines offer robust protection against COVID-19. That is precisely the kind of science that Biden’s team rightly asserts must drive policies designed to control the pandemic.
But it turns out that public communications around these new policies have been confusing and challenging—leaving the public, businesses and organizations uncertain about where they stand. Fully vaccinated individuals, for instance, must still wear face masks and observe social distancing while in health-care facilities, at transportation hubs, or on public transportation, but not in crowded restaurants or in “filled to capacity” arenas or theaters.
Adding to this public confusion is the fact that whatever federal agencies or public health leaders say, states actually have the ultimate authority over local guidelines. Unfortunately, private businesses—as well as health officials and others at the state and local level—were largely caught off-guard by the new policy from the CDC. And the question remains: in addition to freedom for those who are vaccinated, will the new federal guidance encourage millions of unvaccinated individuals to stop wearing masks or disregard state policies?