Here's what the CDC's new mask guidelines mean for you

The CDC's rules are not so black and white

Masks, face masks, CDC
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shocked us with an unexpected update. According to the agency's new guidelines, those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks or social distance in most indoor and outdoor settings—with exceptions. Though this is a welcomed step towards normalcy, the move left many people perplexed and even skeptical. 

The shocking revelation comes on the heels of a two-week-old order stating that those who are fully vaccinated can attend small outdoor gatherings mask-free, even if those in attendance are not vaccinated. At the time, the CDC's mask rule still required vaccinated people to wear masks indoors.  

This seemingly quick switch will put vaccinated Americans on the path towards a pre-pandemic lifestyle, but it's not clear why exactly this new rule went into effect. According to The New York Times, the daily cases being identified (37,000) are the lowest since September 2020. Additionally, the daily death rate is the lowest since July 2020 at about 630.  

So, with new orders in place, what does it mean?

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Where can I and can't I travel mask-free if I am vaccinated?

Those who are fully vaccinated are able to go mask-free in most indoor and outdoor locations, with the following exceptions: 

Nursing homes
Homeless shelters
Public transit

Currently, it is not clear where schools and universities fall in this scenario, according to The Times. 

I have a compromised immune system. What should I do?

Those with compromised immune systems should likely still wear a mask even if they've been vaccinated, according to the CDC. However, it is imperative that individuals consult their doctors to figure out what steps are appropriate.

Do I have to wear a mask on public transit if I am fully vaccinated?

Yes, this is an exception to the CDC's new guidelines. Those who are traveling by public trains, planes, and buses will still be required to wear masks, even if they are fully vaccinated. 

Can I go to local stores and restaurants without a mask if I am fully vaccinated?

Well, it depends. The CDC's laws do not overrule federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws. This means that if a local business still requires patrons and employees to wear masks, people must comply. States and major retailers like Target and Walmart are still weighing their options following the CDC's announcement. 

Should I still carry a mask?

Although fully vaccinated people are permitted to move mask-free in most locations, they still might want to hang onto a face covering. It is likely that they'll wander into a  business or attraction that still requires coverage.

How can I tell if maskless people around me have been vaccinated?

Essentially, there is no way to know if you're surrounded by people who have been fully vaccinated or not. It's important to consult with your family and medical advisors to determine how to best proceed. 

Be sure to visit the CDC for a full outline of what is and is not acceptable, and always consult a doctor if you're unsure. 

Danielle Valente

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, where she particularly enjoys covering lifestyle and entertainment news. She was previously the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. When she's not working, you can find her reading a good book and enjoying a cup of coffee. Follow her @dvwrites.