CDC Drops Mask Requirements For Vaccinated Individuals

The federal government just extended its public transportation mask mandate two weeks ago, to run through September 13th. Yet today the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks.

To be clear, the government says:

  • it is no longer recommended for those who have been vaccinated (except for the immunocompromised)
  • but the government continues to mandate mask-wearing in airports and on planes, both for those that have been vaccinated and for those who refuse to be.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says “we have all longed for this moment.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer need to wear masks or physically distance, indoors or outdoors in most circumstances.

..”Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines, and our understanding of how the virus spreads,” Walensky said, “that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”

Mask rules made a lot of sense when airlines instituted them. I argued for masks when airlines were still prohibiting employees from wearing them. And I’ve argued that people should have been wearing better quality masks throughout the pandemic, and learning to wear them properly (there are simple YouTube videos!).

Now the CDC confirms that fully-vaccinated individuals do not need to wear them, or social distance, indoors or outdoors. Even Dr. Fauci is on board.

Two weeks ago when I wrote that the extension was no longer needed, because adult who wanted a vaccine could get one in the U.S. (and young children who haven’t been vaccinated are generally at less risk than vaccinated older Americans), many readers were angry because this position was out of step with the CDC. Though the CDC doesn’t say masks should no longer be required on planes the implication of their announcement is that the science supports this.

If we’re really going to say that ‘the vaccinated need to wear masks on planes to protect those who refuse to be vaccinated’ even though the CDC Director director also said “vaccinated people do not carry the virus” then we should state so.

The policy of the U.S. government should now be to recommend masks to those who have not been vaccinated, as it now is in most other indoor settings like restaurants where there may be greater risk of virus spread.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For the most part YOUR mask protects strangers – they don’t protect you unless they are N95 with a valve, which airlines don’t permit. (Actually they do, but you have to wear another mask over them).

    So a mask mandate for unvaccinated people may have some value in protecting them from each other and from the rare vaccinated spreader. And of course protects children who can’t yet receive the vax.

    The problem is distinguishing vax travelers from those who are not. I don’t think anyone advocates going back to yellow stars as has been done in some places. There are many antivaxxers who also refuse to wear masks. Should we prohibit them from flying? Or simply let nature take its course by culling the herd of its less intelligent members.

  2. Can’t do yellow stars — that’s smacks of “The Sneetches,” and we all know that Dr. Seuss is officially persona non grata in our new, woke world.

  3. You do understand that the CDC is an independent agency right?

    Meaning it’s not surprising that the rest of the government is somewhat out of sync with it’s recommendations. Give the rest of the government some time to react to the new guidance before you get all faux outrage-y,

  4. @Boraxo – I’m a fan of removing all of the warning labels and letting nature take it’s course.

    With this announcement, masks no longer make sense on airplanes for vaccinated people. The airlines have (correctly) claimed that their filtration systems are just like being outside. Let unvaccinated people wear them as well. For those still concerned they should wear a properly fitted N95 while flying.

    The relaxation of the outdoor mask mandate sure hasn’t done much where I live though – I’m one of the minority that hikes and walks without one. Then again, I live amongst a lot of scared, virtue signaling progressives who will continue to double mask for the remainder of their lives.

  5. The majority of western cultures perceive masks to mean the environment is not safe. Businesses cannot continue to mandate mask wearing because they will lose enough customers that are not willing to spend money under restrictions that are not compatible with the way western society has operated for centuries.

    It has been and always will be an option for people that do not feel comfortable with the way society operates including regarding normal public hygiene procedures to stay home. Vaccination has returned covid to the level of risk comparable to long-standing respiratory diseases or less.

  6. 1) Do you want your unvaccinated children sitting on a plane next to someone who is not vaccinated and mask-less?

    2) There is still a small risk of some mutant virus growing and spreading even to vaccinated people if we don’t hit 80+% vaccinated. So that “herd of less intelligent members” that you are wanting to cull may come back to bite you.

  7. This is ridiculous. I’m fully vaccinated, I can meet up maskless in a mall or a restaurant or store, but I have to wear a mask on an 11 hour flight?

  8. Time for the FAA / TSA to end the airport and airplane mask mandate – let vaccinated people go unmasked – the recovery of business travel depends on this

  9. @Borax, +1 hahaha,

    “…There are many antivaxxers who also refuse to wear masks. Should we prohibit them from flying? Or simply let nature take its course by culling the herd of its less intelligent members.”

  10. So under the new guidelines, those vaccinated can remove the mask. What’s an airline to do? Not sure if airlines made vaccination mandatory or not. They do have contracts. Do we assume that airline personnel wearing a mask have not been vaccinated? Same problem everywhere else. Do retailers lift their own mask requirements? Has the cashier not wearing a mask actually been vaccinated? Maybe people choose a checkout lane based on mask wearing. The CDC’s new guidelines are probably going to create more problems than not.

  11. Is the blog author sitting in a crowded coach section in the summer? Aren’t anti-vaxers also anti-mask? I support keeping the requirement on public transportation including planes. Its not like people on a plane can leave or even step away if someone starts coughing a lot…

  12. Gary, when do you think hotel chains will drop the requirement to wear masks on property?

  13. The CDC guidance still has people, vaxed or not, wearing masks when “seeing doctors, hospital, long term care facilities, traveling by bus/tain/planes/public transportation and in transportation hubs like airports and bus stations etc”.

    So they are still saying everyone should wear masks inflight…vaxed or not.

    I’m so used to masks I don’t really care anymore. I wish they’d issue guidance about PDB being safe

  14. @Carol – I bet no one wants to go first, if the transportation mask mandate ends we’ll see hotels drop the mandate. But the hotel chains are also global and other countries haven’t followed this guidance yet, and most aren’t as far along in vaccination either.

  15. I think we can wait a few more months until children under 12 can get vaccinated before we remove mask mandates in crowded situations. It’d be a shame for my theoretical asymptomatic super spreading 9 year old to infect all the anti-vaxxers on my cross country flight 😉

  16. @Ed, fortunately the data shows kids, theoretically asymptomatic or not, very rarely are a source for others getting the virus to the point where it’s a non-issue. So your fellow anti-vaxxer travelers should be perfectly fine. Hope that alleviates your concern. lol

  17. Is anyone in the world doing “demonstration flights” with no masks? I’m 99.9% certain it would be as safe as current USA flights (because there is zero scientific evidence that cloth masks work). But without the demonstration flights, I feel people will be scared to remove their masks.It’s the proximity thing. It’s not rational, but humans are often not rational.

  18. It looks like the CDC is finally following the science. They have known for months that the virus is very rarely spread outdoors and very rarely spread by vaccinated people. I think the timing is simply that most people who want to be have now been vaccinated, a good enough number that if most people stop wearing masks the consequences won’t be severe, and for the vaccinated will be all but nonexistent.

    The reluctance to include travel – why is it safe for a vaccinated person to be maskless in a bar but not on a bus? – is, I hope, just temporary. I think it’s time to end COVID related travel bans for anyone with a negative test who is willing to take a free J&J upon entering the United States. That will encourage tourism, will make visitors safer, and will make their own countries safer as they return. But we need to be aggressively getting vaccines to the rest of the world. Apart from it being an ethical necessity, this will dramatically reduce the ability of the virus to create new and potentially worse strains.

  19. The CDC did a great thing in removing this non-sensical policy for the vaxxed. Sorry to see the FAA continue a practice that is ensuring a lot us enjoy the highways of America or fly non-commercial, taking revenue from the airlines in the process.

  20. I’m all for maskless flights for vaccinated people just as soon as airlines require proof that people are fully vaccinated. You simply can not rely on an anti-vaxxer to tell the truth about their vaccination status. Heck we have even seen covidiots who knew they had covid and still got on a crowded plane and exposed people. We need vaccine passports because you simply can’t trust the anti-mask anti vaxxer crowd to do the right thing. We know that there are some breakthrough cases with the variants. When a vaccinated person becomes infected there is always the possibility that the virus willl mutate to evade the vaccine. If that happens it sets the whole country back to the start of the pandemic. If you want to go without a mask get fully vaccinated otherwise mask up or stay off the plane.

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