CDC updates COVID-19 mask guidance: Everything you need to know

If you've been fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that you can stop wearing your face mask in the majority of situations. The new guidance, which first leaked earlier today, underscores the importance of getting vaccinated against the virus and the role it plays in returning to normal.

The new guidance was announced by US CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a White House briefing on Thursday. The CDC says that the growing mass of scientific literature on the COVID-19 pandemic supports removing the mask and social distancing mandates for people who have been fully vaccinated, which means receiving either one or two (depending on the product) vaccine doses and then waiting two weeks to build immunity.

The new guidance applies to both small and large groups and both indoor and outdoor spaces. Though the chance for breakthrough COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated people remains, these infections are rare, they're likely to have a lower viral load, they're less likely to be transmitted to other people, and the resulting illness is typically milder and shorter in duration.

There are still some restrictions in the guidance, with the CDC noting that you should still wear a mask while traveling, such as on airplanes, and anyone with a weakened immune system should seek their doctor's advice before abandoning their mask. Likewise, masks may still be required in certain places, such as in hospitals and healthcare clinics.

The CDC likewise emphasizes that this guidance is only for people who are fully vaccinated, warning that if you haven't received the COVID-19 vaccine, you're still at risk of contracting the virus, potentially developing a severe illness, and spreading it to other people.

It's unclear how these relaxed guidelines may impact the spread of the disease as many unvaccinated people are likely to stop wearing masks, as well. A number of online destinations have become breeding grounds for fake vaccination cards, including templates and instructions on how to make one, prompting a warning from the FBI that falsifying and/or using a fake card may be a crime.

As part of its updated mask guidance, the CDC notes that changes in the pandemic may force it to update the guidance in the future.