When is it okay to ditch your mask?
One of the main COVID-19 safety precautions – wearing a mask – is now being relaxed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Infectious disease expert Helmut Albrecht, MD, explained why the CDC has changed their recommendation and if it’s okay to ditch your mask.
The new mask guideline from the CDC, (found here), says that if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors.
“However, this change does not apply to the vast majority of the population,” said Dr. Albrecht. “About 65% of the population has not been vaccinated, so they are not immune yet. And even if you are immune, there are important exceptions.”
Dr. Albrecht said it’s important to continue wearing a mask if:
- You are in a healthcare setting, such as your physician’s office or hospital
- You have COVID-19 symptoms
- You’re immunocompromised to the point that the vaccine may not be as protective
- There are ordinances, local rules or building requirements that advise you to wear a mask
- You are indoors in a crowded setting and cannot control how many unvaccinated people you are exposed to, including all travel related activities such as planes, buses and airports
What is the reason for the new recommendation?
Dr. Albrecht said the CDC made this recommendation based on the data. “The currently authorized vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective at protecting vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe disease. We’re seeing this play out in our healthcare system and other healthcare systems. Virtually 99% of all patients who get admitted to the hospital or die from COVID-19 have not been fully vaccinated, so it’s very rare that a fully vaccinated person gets severe enough disease to get admitted.”
There’s also a growing body of evidence to suggest that fully vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus to others if they get infected because they have a far lower viral load.
“If you’re vaccinated, you’re very well protected against severe disease. Not 100%, but very well protected, and there should be a difference in how you can behave compared to people who are not vaccinated.”
What if you are hesitant to remove your mask even though you’re vaccinated?
If you are concerned about removing your mask while in certain places, keep it on. You don’t know if individuals you are coming into contact with are vaccinated, so continuing to wear a mask in an effort to add an extra layer of protection is okay.
Why is it important for everyone to get vaccinated?
Dr. Albrecht said it’s important to get the vaccine to protect yourself and your community – including people with compromised immune systems and those who have significant comorbidities. The vaccine will not protect them quite as well as other healthy people.
“They depend on everyone around them, including younger people, to get the vaccine to protect them. A 12 to 15 year old has a very low risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, but they have a fairly high chance of getting an asymptomatic infection. And if they transmit this to their grandparents or others who have a weak immune system, those people may get in trouble. It’s incredible how effective, well tolerated and safe the mRNA vaccines are. We can accelerate getting back to normal if everybody gets the vaccine,” said Dr. Albrecht.
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