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CDC: Michiganders vaccinated against COVID can ease outdoor mask use

women walking outside
New CDC guidance for the fully vaccinated, at least for now, runs counter to a Michigan state health order requiring everyone to mask up when they gather outside. That may soon change. (Shutterstock)

Fully vaccinated Michiganders now get a partial reprieve from wearing masks under new federal guidance — just in time for the summer, too.

Among the guiding principles of new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines issued Tuesday: Those who are fully vaccinated can “participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask.”

The guideline doesn’t specify gathering sizes, though it still recommends masks, even for the fully vaccinated, for “certain crowded settings and venues” filled with strangers, such as stadiums or concerts.

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Citing the rise in Americans being vaccinated and slowing of new COVID-19 cases, there also was good news for those yet to be vaccinated. The CDC noted, for instance, that it would be okay for healthy, unvaccinated children and grandchildren to visit vaccinated grandparents, “provided none of the unvaccinated family members are at risk of severe COVID-19.”

But vaccinated residents enjoy even greater freedoms, in line with the Biden administration’s carrot approach to getting more Americans protected against a deadly virus. As an example, the fully vaccinated can take off their masks at small gatherings, even when others in the group are not vaccinated, the CDC release said. 

For the moment, the federal guidance seems to run afoul of present state orders that require masks outdoors. But those appear to be about to change as well. 

"I would anticipate forthcoming policy changes potentially that will feel a little bit more normal for all of us," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference in Macomb County Tuesday, according to the Detroit News. "The more people that get vaccinated, the more things we'll be able to do. But, we are continuing to monitor what the CDC is recommending and our data here in Michigan."

It was not immediately clear when Michigan Department of Health and Human Services might revise its mask order — an extension of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s controversial mask rules that began more than a year ago with an indoor mask mandate.

It’s also not clear just how many daily routines will change because of the revised CDC guidelines, in a state where many have abandoned such safety protocols, and where some residents say they feel whipsawed by a stream of state orders, federal guidelines, and health care advice.

“I’m standing in the park right now, and 90 percent of the people here aren’t wearing masks,” said Gwen Auwerda, executive director of Tulip Time, an annual event in Holland, which opens Saturday as some 4.5 million tulips bloom throughout town.

tulip time
Visitors had already begun arriving in Holland, Mich., Tuesday for the annual Tulip Time event. They will be advised to mask, but there’s little way to enforce that, says an event organizer. (Courtesy photo)

With the tulips already blooming, a stream of visitors had already begun, she said.

Event organizers restarted the event this year, after having to cancel it last year as the virus first surged through Michigan. For safety, there will be no parade and no large gatherings for the traditional dancing program. Trolley tours will be replaced by two-mile walking tours amid smaller groups, Auwerda said.

And event organizers had signs urging social distancing and masking outside — adorned with symbols of a boy and girl in wooden shoes.

mask sign
With a nod to the event’s background, organizers of Tulip Time ordered these signs, reminding visitors to wear masks for safety. (Courtesy photo)

“We’ll still put the signs out. We don’t know who has been vaccinated or not,” she said. “And we’re not going to ask.”

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks or more after a second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two weeks after the one-dose Johnson Johnson vaccine.

According to the guidance released Tuesday, fully vaccinated people also can:

  • Visit indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit indoors with unvaccinated people (including children) from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Resume domestic travel without being tested for COVID before or after travel, and skip the self-quarantine after travel.
  • Leave for international travel without being tested, unless it’s required by the destination, and skip quarantine after arriving home.
  • Skip testing after being exposed to COVID-19, if there are no symptoms, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Skip quarantine following a known exposure if you are asymptomatic
  • Skip routine screening testing if asymptomatic.

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Wear masks that fit snuggly when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk,
  • Wear well-fitted masks when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid indoor large in-person gatherings
  • Be tested when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms

Read the CDC’s guidelines and details here

The guidelines underscore that getting vaccinated will “get us to the end of these restrictions,” said Linda Vail, Ingham County health officer, who last year passed some of the first local restrictions on outdoor gatherings.

Still, Michigan continues through a third wave of COVID that has packed some hospitals and sickened higher numbers of young people.

“I would urge some caution with those guidelines, and just use some personal judgement about what feels safe, instead of just thinking ‘I just got (vaccinated, so) I just got my hall pass,’” she said. 

Growing evidence shows that vaccines grow in effectiveness as the days pass, noted Emily Toth Martin, a University of Michigan epidemiologist, assisting the state health department and the CDC in tracking COVID cases.

“Our numbers are still really high, so it’s still prudent to keep wearing masks when you're around people you don’t know,” she said.

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