America’s mask mandate is gone — for the fully vaccinated

With an unexpected announcement, it was gone.

The United States’ health authority has lifted the mask mandate, announcing on Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear face coverings indoors or out. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief across America, which appears to have truly turned a corner after enduring the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday, adding: “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.” US President Joe Biden praised the CDC’s announcement, calling it “a great milestone, a great day,” as he removed his mask, making a point to smile and telling others to do so.

The new guidelines add to a series of major announcements demonstrating how America is racing towards a post-pandemic life, including authorizing vaccines for people as young as 12 and a call from the second-largest teachers’ union to reopen schools this fall. But the CDC’s decision also comes as a surprise to many, including some public health experts who had predicted that masks might be part of our lives for the long haul. Now, everyone from employers to restaurant owners to local government officials is scrambling to understand how to react, especially as there is still no system for distinguishing between those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t — and fewer than half of adults in the US (46%) are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

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