cuomo wallensky split
Cuomo presses CDC Director over delays in updating guidance
06:34 - Source: CNN

CNN Films’ “Race for the Vaccine,” produced and narrated by Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, traces the world-changing discoveries of the vaccines against Covid-19. Watch Saturday, May 15, at 9 p.m. ET.

CNN  — 

People fully vaccinated against Covid-19 generally don’t need to wear masks or practice social distancing inside or outside, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday – one of many milestones Americans are starting to see now that Covid-19 vaccinations are open to young teens.

The CDC’s updated mask guidance means the United States is one step closer to returning to normal, but the pandemic is not over yet, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t want to declare victory prematurely, but I’m saying this is clearly a step in the direction that we want to go,” Fauci said.

We still have a long way to go before reaching herd immunity. As of Wednesday, only 35.4% of Americans had been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Fully vaccinated people can do a lot more things (safely)

Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced major updates to the CDC’s mask guidance.

People fully vaccinated against Covid-19 don’t need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances, she said.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

She cited three studies – one from Israel and two from the United States – that show vaccines work.

The Israeli study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed the vaccine was 97% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and 86% effective against asymptomatic infection in more than 5,000 health care workers.

Walensky’s announcement had a few caveats. The requirement to wear masks during travel – on buses, trains, planes and public transportation – stands, Walensky said.

Anyone who develops Covid-19 symptoms should put their mask back on and get tested, she said.

And those with compromised immune systems should speak with their doctors before giving up their masks.

“The past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable, so if things get worse, there is always a chance we may need to make a change to these recommendations,” Walensky said.

Despite the new guidance, people should be able to make their own choices in wearing masks, Fauci said.

“What you heard from Dr. Walensky is the recommendation based on science. And that’s just a recommendation. And when people want to do that, they at least have the science behind them,” Fauci said.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an individual who has a certain level of risk aversion, as we know the risk is extremely low of getting infected whether you’re indoors or outdoors,” Fauci said. “But 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.”

Children too young to be vaccinated will still have to wear masks indoors and around others, though, even if older kids and adults are free to take off face protection once they are fully vaccinated, Fauci said.

The airline industry also said it will continue to enforce a mask mandate on airplanes and in airports, Airlines For America spokesperson Carter Yang told CNN in a statement.

The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday the Biden administration’s transportation mask mandate will stay in place on flights and in terminals through September 13.

While it’s impossible to get Covid-19 from any of the vaccines used in the United States, the vaccines aren’t 100% effective against infection – and a small number of people have gotten coronavirus.

But in those rare cases, “the resulting infection is more likely to have a lower viral load, may be shorter in duration, and likely less risk of transmission to others,” Walensky said.

States and companies react to new mask mandate

A number of states already began reacting to the mask mandate Thursday.

Colorado health officials were holding their weekly meeting when the CDC guidance went out.

“I will say the state in general will be reviewing this and looking at how it impacts our own mask guidelines, but it’s too early to say anything just yet,” said Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday he will rescind the statewide mask mandate.

“It’s a good day. It’s another one of those moves in Minnesota and across the country, of a move back towards normalcy,” Walz said.

Local businesses will still be able to keep mask mandates on their property, and face coverings will still be required in health care settings, Walz said Thursday evening.

The governor’s office in Nevada announced the CDC guidance was effective immediately in the state, where Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a measure May 3 ordering the state’s mask mandate must mirror CDC guidelines.

The state’s critical gaming industry – whose major Vegas casino floors were allowed to return to 100% capacity just this month – also will be allowed to let their guests to go without masks if they choose.

In North Carolina, the indoor mask mandate will remain in effect, according to Dory MacMillan, press secretary for Gov. Roy Cooper.

Pediatricians urge teens to get vaccinated

Although adolescents were not classified in the most at-risk group when Covid-19 broke out, officials say it is crucial for them to be vaccinated.

Though not as commonly severe as its impact on older populations, the virus can still be dangerous to teens. More adolescents have been hospitalized for severe coronavirus disease than are usually hospitalized for influenza, the CDC said Wednesday.

“Adolescents 12 to 17 years of age are at risk of severe illness from Covid-19,” CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver told a meeting of the CDC’s outside vaccine advisers. “There have been over 1.5 million reported cases and over 13,000 hospitalizations to date among adolescents 12 to 17 years.”

And children and teens are starting to make up a larger proportion of coronavirus cases, Oliver said.

“In April, 9% of cases were aged 12 to 17 years, which actually represents a larger proportion of cases than adults 65 and older,” she told the meeting. “However, we note that diagnosed and reported cases are an underestimate.”

CVS pharmacies will begin administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to people as young as 12 beginning Thursday, the company said.

Teens should get their vaccines as soon as possible, even at the same time as routine childhood vaccinations, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Wednesday.

“This is truly an exciting development that allows us to protect a large population of children and help them regain their lives after a really rough year,” AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers said in a statement.

“As a pediatrician and a parent, I have looked forward to getting my own children and patients vaccinated, and I am thrilled that those ages 12 and older can now be protected. The data continue to show that this vaccine is safe and effective. I urge all parents to call their pediatrician to learn more about how to get their children and teens vaccinated.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, John Bonifield, Naomi Thomas, Deidre McPhillips, Lauren Mascarenhas, Stella Chan, Carma Hassan, Maggie Fox and Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.