WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday celebrated the new guidelines lifting mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated, crediting his administration's vaccination program with dramatically reducing the impact of the coronavirus.
"I think it's a great milestone, a great day," Biden said, speaking from the Rose Garden. "It's been made possible by the extraordinary success we've had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly."
Earlier Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who are fully vaccinated — meaning, two weeks removed from their last shot — no longer need to wear masks or physically distance themselves, indoors or outdoors in most circumstances.
The new guidelines mark a turning point in Biden's fight against the virus, offering the country a renewed hope that a return to pre-pandemic normally is achievable as Covid-19 cases decrease across the country and as more and more people get vaccinated.
It also offers a clear reminder of the progress that has been made on tackling the virus from when Biden first took office when more than 3,000 were dying each day in the United States and Biden repeatedly pleaded with Americans to wear a mask.
"The American people stepped up. You did what I consider to be your patriotic duty. That’s how we’ve gotten to this day," Biden said Thursday.
Still, Biden warned that the country was not in the clear yet and that too many Americans were dying of the virus. Biden urged people to go and get vaccinated, saying that the CDC's lift of the mask requirement only applies to those who are fully vaccinated.
"The rule is very simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do," Biden said. "The choice is yours. You all made this possible. Now let's finish the work of beating this virus and getting everything back to normal."
Biden also stressed that some Americans might not yet feel comfortable taking their masks off and urged people to "treat them with kindness and respect."
As the CDC announced the new rule, the atmosphere at the White House began to instantly change.
Biden walked back into the White House following his speech without wearing a mask, and aides who had diligently worn N95s since the start of the administration in an effort to model good public health behavior began shedding them.
Earlier Thursday Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and a group of senators also met in the Oval Office without wearing masks, and first lady Jill Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and actress Jennifer Garner took their masks off during a trip to a high school in West Virginia following the announcement.
White House staffers were also sent an email announcing that, effective immediately, anyone working on the White House complex who is fully vaccinated is no longer required to wear a mask.
"Just ran into [Michael Gwin] in the hall, both of us sans mask for the first time in the building — what a treat!!" tweeted Peter Velz, an aid to Harris, referring to the White House's rapid response director.
The White House Correspondents' Association sent an email to members on Thursday saying that the mask-wearing requirements for reporters on the White House grounds were immediately lifted for those fully vaccinated.
"Look at the smiles on other peoples' faces," Biden said. "Better days are ahead. I promise you."