On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its guidance on wearing face masks outdoors, and on the rules for the fully vaccinated — essentially endorsing what many of us have already been doing after our second shots.
Under new CDC guidance, fully vaccinated people no longer need to mask up when they're outdoors exercising with people in their household, or if they're walking down the street, and they no longer need to maintain the mask theater at outdoor restaurants. However, masks are still being recommended in all indoor spaces — and the CDC is still telling unvaccinated people to keep their masks on in most outdoor settings with other unvaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated people are encouraged to mask up in crowded outdoor settings, the CDC says, but they can go unmasked in small gatherings with other vaccinated people. Also, you're still considered unvaccinated until you're two weeks out from your second shot, or your one-shot of Johnson & Johnson.
Today's change does not mean that San Francisco is going to lift its outdoor mask mandate immediately — though we may hear more about this later in the day. At the moment, masks on sidewalks remain the polite thing to do, and there's a lot of self-policing going on and uneasiness in general until we know that more people are fully vaxxed. Many restaurants continue to ask patrons to mask up every time their (presumably vaccinated) servers approach a table, and that may not stop anytime soon as restaurant workers remain among the most exposed to strangers — and the vaccines are still not 100% effective at preventing infection.
But public health officials elsewhere in the nation are saying that today's a banner day, and perhaps the first of many in the long road back to normal.
"In the vast majority of outdoor scenarios, transmission risk is low," says UCSF physician-scientist Dr. Babak Javid, speaking to the Associated Press. "The key thing is to make sure people wear masks indoors," he says.
Mercedes Carnethon, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, tells the AP that "the timing is right" for the CDC's change in guidance as more data points to the extremely low risk of outdoor transmission. And, she adds, "the additional freedoms may serve as a motivator" for reluctant people to go get their shots.
"It’s the return of freedom,” says University of Alabama at Birmingham infectious disease expert Dr. Mike Saag, speaking to the AP. "It’s the return of us being able to do normal activities again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the exit ramp. And that’s a beautiful thing."
We'll update you if and when San Francisco changes its rules, or any other Bay Area counties — and if SF reaches the "Yellow" tier today.
Update: SF is not in the "Yellow" tier yet, but Gov. Gavin Newsom did issue a statement about the CDC announcement saying, "After reviewing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking recommendations, and with science and data as our guide, we are moving to align California’s guidance with these common-sense updates." This means that outdoor masking may not always be the rule when the state expects to broadly lift more restrictions on June 15 .
Photo: Darwin Bell