‘I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,’ Fauci told Axios ahead of a virtual event.
‘It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.’
About 60 percent of U.S. adults have had at least a first dose of vaccine and more than 124 million people are fully vaccinated.
The U.S. is still reeling in the wake of the CDC’s update to its mask guidelines, telling fully vaccinated people they can safely stop wearing masks in most places, indoors or outdoors, excepting crowded indoor spaces like planes.
Dozens of states have amended their own mask orders to comply with the new guidance, and businesses like Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Best Buy are dropping their mask requirements as Covid cases plummet in all 50 states.
But that poses a whole new set of problems. The guidelines are only intended to tell fully vaccinated people they can go maskless, but businesses have no way of knowing who is vaccinated or unvaccinated without making an unprecedented requirement for customers to show proof of vaccination.
And it will only be safe for people to go maskless for as long as vaccine protection lasts – which Dr Fauci predicts will be about a year.
‘I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,’ Dr Fauci told Axios ahead of a virtual event (file)
CDC’s updated guidance says that fully vaccinated people can safely go without masks in most settings while vaccinated people should still mask up indoors – but Dr Fauci is worried that finer point has been lost on many Americans, though he says it’s ‘not their fault’
All but three states – New Jersey, California and Hawaii – and Washington, DC, have relaxed their mask requirements for fully vaccinated people
As of Wednesday, all but three U.S. states have updated their mask mandates to be consistent with CDC’s guidelines and no longer require fully vaccinated people to cover their faces in most indoor or outdoor settings.
California, Hawaii and New Jersey are the lone holdouts.
Governor Gavin Newsom said California won’t relax its requirement until at least June 15.
And New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has not so much as put forth a date when he might lift the indoor mask requirement, breaking rank with the Tri-State alliance.
‘I don’t want to get burned. I don’t want to go back. We’re the only state in America that has not gone back once and i don’t want to start now,’ Murphy said during a Monday press briefing.
‘I can’t speak for our neighbors, they’ve been great partners, but on this one we feel quite strongly.’
New York’s and Connecticut’s indoor mask rules officially relaxed to let fully vaccinated people take them off on Wednesday.
Dr Fauci is concerned that the new guidelines will be interpreted too broadly.
‘It’s not their fault,’ he told Axios.
‘People either read them quickly, or listen and hear half of it.
‘They are feeling that we’re saying: ‘You don’t need the mask anymore.’ That’s not what the CDC said.
‘They said: If you are vaccinated, you can feel safe – that you will not get infected either outdoors or indoors. It did not explicitly say that unvaccinated people should abandon their masks.’
In fact, the CDC’s guidelines describe every activity from ‘safest’ to ‘least safe’ – they don’t deem anything absolutely ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe.’
It describes dining indoors, attending crowded indoor or outdoor events, indoor exercise classes, worship services (at full capacity), choruses or movie theaters as ‘least safe’ for unvaccinated people, advising them to wear masks.
CDC still advises both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks in crowded indoor environments, including airplanes.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still requires masks on all public transit, including planes, buses and trains.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky has hinted that the agency might revisit guidelines for airline travel, amid confusion from vaccinated Americans who were told they could go to indoor bars or high school basketball games without masks, but could not board planes without them.
Dr Fauci suggested otherwise.
He said that Americans likely won’t get to shed their masks for at least several months, but probably won’t have to keep them on in the air for years to come.
And while the CDC is confident enough to tell fully vaccinated people they can unmask in most situations, people who are currently able to do so don’t have a lifetime pass.
‘I think we will almost certainly require a booster sometime within a year or so, after getting the primary [shot], because the durability of protection against coronaviruses is generally not lifelong,’ said Dr Fauci.