The CDC Says You Still Can't Go Into This One Place Without a Mask

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Over the last year, masks have become an integral part of our daily lives thanks the coronavirus pandemic. But as COVID cases have declined amid vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a shocking announcement on May 13 that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, expect under special circumstances. Under the new guidelines, there is only one place the CDC says you still can't go without a mask—on public transportation.

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"Right now for travel, we're asking people to continue to wear their masks," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a White House press briefing on May 13. "We still have the requirement to wear masks when you travel on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation … as well as airports and stations."

An order made by the CDC has required travelers to wear masks on public transportation since Feb. 2, 2021—and it has been extended through Sept. 13. According to this order, all passengers and workers should wear masks on public transportation such as airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares, and in transportation hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train or subway stations, seaports, and ports of entry.

"Conveyance operators must also require all persons onboard to wear masks when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel," the order states. "Operators of transportation hubs must require all persons to wear a mask when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub."

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Walensky said that the CDC will continue to update its recommendations for policies like wearing masks during travel as new science emerges. She also said that locations such as healthcare facilities will "continue to follow their specific infection control recommendations," which means you may be required to don a mask when entering one of these facilities. And if you're immunocompromised, Walensky said you should talk to your doctor before going out without a mask.

Other than that, fully vaccinated people are free to take off their masks indoors and outdoors, unless not permitted to do so by federal, state, or local laws, the CDC says. This also means that rules and regulations from local businesses and workplaces can still require you to wear a mask.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physically distancing," Walensky said. The CDC says you are considered fully vaccinated if it has been two weeks since your second shot of a two-dose vaccine or two weeks since you received a single-shot vaccine.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," she added.

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According to the CDC, unvaccinated individuals should still be wearing their masks at all times, however. "You remain at risk of mild or severe illness, of death, or spreading the disease to others. You should still mask, and you should get vaccinated right away," Walensky said.

If you develop any COVID symptoms, you should also "put your mask back on and get tested right away," Walensky said. After all, the CDC says that even fully vaccinated people can get and spread the coronavirus—although the likelihood of this happening is very small.

The CDC recommendation that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors in most circumstances can also be reversed at any time. "This past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable," Walensky explained. "So if things get worse, there is always a chance we may need to make change to these recommendations."

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