Dr. Fauci Just Warned You Not to Do This Now That You Don't Need a Mask

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One year ago, we had just started getting used to masking up in public places, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in early April that everyone in the U.S. (not just medical professionals and those with COVID) should be wearing a face covering. And now, we're going to have to get used to going outside without a mask. The CDC announced on May 13 that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors or indoors, except under special circumstances. Even though this is a return to the pre-pandemic "normal" we knew, some people may not feel ready to remove the face coverings that have been protecting them for an entire year. And White House chief COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, is warning people not to criticize those who may not want to leave their masks behind just yet.

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says We'll Be "Close to Back to Normal" by This Exact Date.

During the White House COVID-19 Response Team's press briefing on May 13 in which they announced the mask guideline change, Tommy Christopher of Mediaite asked Fauci, "I was wondering if you had anything to say to people who have been vaccinated and still want to wear masks in situations that the CDC says are low risk. Is there anything wrong with that? And should people be side-eyeing them?"

In response, Fauci said that there is nothing wrong with fully vaccinated people keeping their masks on, despite the CDC's updated advice. He said the decision to not wear a mask is a "personal choice," and this is simply a recommendation from the CDC, not a requirement. "There are those people who don't want to take that bit of a risk, and there's nothing wrong with that, and they shouldn't be criticized," Fauci explained.

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Both Andy Slavitt, senior adviser for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, and Rochelle Walensky, MD, the director of the CDC, shared Fauci's sentiment. "People have to make these decisions based on their own comfort," Walensky said.

Slavitt added that, "Habits are hard to break, so people may take time to adjust. That's fine. As a rule, we are anti-side-eyeing."

As for the fully vaccinated people who do want to take their masks off, Fauci says the science is on their side. He said the CDC's guideline change is a "recommendation based on science," with Walensky citing multiple recent studies that show how effective the vaccines are in the real world (as opposed to just clinical trials) and against evolving variants. "In the last two weeks, the cases in this country have dropped by a third. In the last two weeks, we have had increasingly available vaccine and we now have available and eligible people between the ages of 12 and 15," Walensky said during the briefing. "And we have had a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week. That science has been in three areas. One is the effectiveness of the vaccines in general and real-world populations. One is the effectiveness against variants, which was just published last week. And then the effectiveness in preventing transmissibility."

Still, some fully vaccinated people may want to wear their masks because breakthrough infections are possible, according to the CDC. However, Fauci noted that the risk of getting infected once you're fully vaccinated is "extremely low."

Walensky also said that when in situations where you are not sure if people are vaccinated (like at a concert or a restaurant), it is still safe for you to remove your mask if you're fully vaccinated; it's people who haven't gotten their COVID shots who are at risk.

"The science demonstrates that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected. It is the people who are not fully vaccinated in those settings—who might not be wearing a mask—who are not protected. And it is those people that we are encouraging to get vaccinated and to wear a mask and to physically distance," Walensky explained. "So if you're vaccinated in those settings, you certainly could wear a mask if you wanted to, but we are saying in those settings, based on the science, that it is safe [not to]."

RELATED: The CDC Says People Who Get COVID After Vaccination Have This in Common.