Americans have the go-ahead to ditch masks when exercising outside, and when attending small outdoor gatherings with fully-vaccinated friends and family, regardless of whether they are vaccinated themselves.
In its new guidance released on Tuesday (local time), the US Centres for Disease Control also gave the thumbs-up to fully vaccinated people removing their masks at outdoor restaurants when dining with friends from multiple households.
People are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ once two weeks have passed since their last dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Nearly 30 per cent of Americans are now fully-vaccinated, and nearly 43 per cent have had at least one dose. The numbers are higher for the most vulnerable: Nearly 68 per cent of those aged over 65 are now fully-vaccinated.
Most infections happening indoors
But the CDC still recommends avoiding large indoor gatherings even if vaccinated. And everyone, whether vaccinated or not, should still be wearing a mask at large outdoor gatherings such as sports events, parades or outdoor concerts and rallies, the CDC says.
“We will continue to recommend this until widespread vaccination is achieved,” CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said at a virtual White House briefing.
She said masks should also be worn by everyone in indoor public places such as malls, movie theatres and museums.
Dr Walensky said the latest data “suggests that most of transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors”. She said many studies showed less than 10 per cent of documented transmission happened outside, CNN reports.
International students to return, including from China
The Biden administration also said it would ease travel restrictions on Chinese and other international students into the US from August, a change that could provide financial help to some colleges whose enrolments declined during the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports.
The US State Department said it planned to expand its national interest exemptions to cover students and academics around the world. Restrictions were eased in March for European students.
About 35 per cent of international students studying in the US in the 2019-20 school year were from China. In January 2020, then-president Donald Trump imposed the restrictions barring nearly all non-US citizens who were in China from entering the United States.
Fox News riles up anti-mask sentiment
As the US heads towards summer, the CDC has also released guidance on summer camps.
Children attending camp can get within 90 centimetres of each other but should wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, it says.
That will infuriate many, with mask-wearing still a highly-politicised issue in the US, especially among Republican voters.
In a broadcast likely to further rile up ‘anti-maskers’ and result in confrontations, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called forcing children to wear masks “child abuse”.
“Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different than your response to seeing someone beat a child in Walmart: Call the police immediately.” Mr Carlson said on Monday night (local time).
“What you’re seeing is abuse. It’s child abuse, and you’re morally obligated to try to prevent it.”
Mr Carlson also called on his viewers to confront anyone still wearing a mask outside.
“The next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or the bike path, don’t hesitate. Ask politely but firmly: ‘Would you please take off your mask? Science shows there is no reason to wear it. Your mask is making me uncomfortable’,” he said.
“We should do that, and we should keep doing it, until wearing a mask outdoors is roughly as socially accepted as lighting a Marlboro in an elevator. It’s repulsive. Don’t do it around other people.”
Florida school bars vaccinated teachers from classrooms
Meanwhile, a Miami private school has discouraged teachers from getting the COVID vaccine and barred vaccinated employees from interacting with students, reports the BBC.
“We cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known,” the co-founder of the Centner Academy, Leila Centner, wrote to parents.
A self-proclaimed “health freedom advocate”, Mrs Centner repeated a false claim of vaccinated individuals affecting unvaccinated people, saying three women in the school’s community had their menstrual cycles “impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person”.
There is no scientific evidence for these claims. None of the coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the US (or Australia) have been linked to infertility, miscarriages or any other negative changes to women’s reproductive health.