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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

America reopening: Fully-vaccinated don’t need masks now, says CDC

people in masks
Don’t burn your mask just yet, but the fully vaccinated are safe to go maskless in most places in public now, according to new CDC guidelines. (Shuttersotck)

Vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face coverings or socially distance in most situations, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday afternoon. The announcement marks a big step towards normalcy in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidance is a recommendation and not a mandate. Michigan is not required to immediately loosen its guidelines, but the federal recommendations are likely to increase pressure on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to further reopen the state.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said late Thursday her office was reviewing the CDC guidance.

 

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According to the CDC guidance, fully vaccinated people – those who are two weeks past their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single shot of Johnson & Johnson vaccine – will no longer need to mask outdoors even in crowded settings, or indoors in most settings.

The agency still calls for everybody to wear face masks while visiting hospitals or long-term care facilities or traveling on buses or airplanes.

Under the recommendations, the fully vaccinated would not have to mask up to go into stores, restaurants or offices, for example.

What the new federal guidance means immediately in Michigan is unclear, said Nick Derusha, president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which represents the state's 45 local health departments.

"Everyone's going to have to analyze the CDC's guidance, and the state will have to compare that to epidemic orders," said Derusha, who even as the CDC released the new guidance, met a Bridge Michigan journalist at his Upper Peninsula office in Newberry with his mask on. 

 

Local health officials, he said, will expect guidance in the coming days from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Whatever gets ironed out at the state level,  Derusha worries that the new guidance will inflame culture wars on the local level – galvanizing those who were opposed to masks from the get-go, while deepening the worry for those who feel safer with them on as others around them who discard theirs.

In addition to retail sites and restaurants, that debate could get heated at schools, Derusha said. There, few teens and especially adolescents 12 to 15 years old, have been vaccinated, as Pfizer's vaccine was authorized for 12 to 15-year-olds just this week.

"It's a tough situation," he said. "It's going to take some time to sort it out."

Some hope that by loosening restrictions on the fully immunized, vaccine-hesitant Americans might feel more compelled to get the shot themselves. As of May 13, 55.4 percent of Michigan residents have received their first shot. 

But the guidance also may create new dilemmas for businesses that, in effect, would be asked to have separate rules for different customers.

“It could be inhospitable for a restaurant to ask for a vaccination card, and then segregate the dining room,” said Kelsey Wonsavage, manager at Ann Arbor tapas eatery Aventura. “The whole point of hospitality is bringing people together and taking care- and if we start off by segregation I don’t know how we can achieve that.”

Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature have railed against “vaccine passports” that would allow the immunized to do things and go places that the unvaccinated can’t. Businesses that now require masks for everyone might hesitate to begin asking customers if they’ve been vaccinated.

That would be a nightmare scenario for Michigan restaurants, said John Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“As the governor and the Department of Health and Human Services consider adoption of this recommendation in Michigan, we implore them not to put …  employees in harm's way to verify who is fully vaccinated,” Winslow told Bridge in a written statement. “We are all working together to expedite a post-COVID environment and need to be thoughtful about how we get there amicably. Deputizing hospitality employees against their will to validate and enforce vaccination credentials is not a step towards that more amicable future."

In late April, Whitmer tied further loosening of pandemic restrictions such as capacity limits on sports stadiums and fitness facilities and curfews on restaurants and bars to state residents reaching vaccine-based benchmarks. 

Just this week, Michigan hit its first benchmark of 55 percent of adults with at least one dose of COVID vaccine, allowing offices to reopen within two weeks. Other limits are loosened or lifted as the state reaches higher benchmarks, up to 70 percent.

President Joe Biden lauded the updated guidance in remarks from the White House Thursday afternoon, telling vaccinated Americans: “You did what I consider to be your patriotic duty. That’s how we have gotten to this day.”

- Robin Erb contributed to this report

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