Calling it “an exciting and powerful moment,” the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need wearing masks or practicing physical distancing indoors or outdoors, except under special circumstances.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing. “We have all longed for this moment when we can return to a sense of normalcy.”

Walensky said science supports the new recommendation that “anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves.”

California Says Goodbye to Outdoor Mask WearShe cited three studies, one from Israel and one from the United States, that show vaccines work.

The Israeli study, which was published in the medical journal JAMA, showed that the vaccine was 97% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 86% effective against asymptomatic infections in more than 5,000 healthcare workers.

There have been reports of thousands of cases of “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated people in the United States, a small number among the more than 117 million people in the country who are now fully vaccinated. Walensky noted that “the resulting infection is more likely to have a lower viral load, may be of shorter duration and probably less risk of transmission to other people.”

Walensky’s announcement has a few caveats. He cautioned that immunosuppressed people should speak to their doctors before giving up their masks.

He also said that “the past year has shown us that this virus can be unpredictable, so if things get worse, there is always the possibility that we will need to make changes to the recommendations.”

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