CDC says vaccinated people can take masks off indoors and outdoors

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely resume life without any restrictions in most cases, according to long-awaited federal guidance released Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if you are fully vaccinated — two weeks past the last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — you don’t need to wear masks indoors or outside, and you don’t need to maintain physical distance.

The change is a monumental shift in how the agency has communicated about the risks of the coronavirus and the benefits of vaccines, and is a major step towards reopening America in time for the July 4 holiday.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated, can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Big asterisks: The new guidelines do not apply to health care settings, correctional facilities or homeless shelters, the agency said. People will also need to follow local business and workplace guidances, so masks are likely to continue to be required in private businesses.

Travel is also not exempt, at least not yet, so masks will still be required on airplanes, trains and public transportation.

Kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet, so they will also have to keep wearing masks. And, according to an agency spokesman, if you have already recovered from COVID-19 but have not been vaccinated, you are considered unvaccinated and still need to wear a mask.

What’s next: States across the country have been easing restrictions and reopening businesses as local vaccination rates increase, despite the CDC and federal health officials who continued to urge caution. This is a major shift in messaging and puts even more pressure on businesses and local governments. There is no way to know who is vaccinated and who is not, and the idea of some kind of “vaccine passport” or digital identifier has become a partisan flashpoint vehemently opposed by Republicans.