Millions of vaccinated Americans on Tuesday were freed from government recommendations on outdoor mask-wearing.
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, do not need to wear a mask outside unless they are in a crowded setting.
Shortly after the announcement, U.S. President Joe Biden strolled to a lectern on the White House North Lawn to tout the new advisory.
"The CDC is able to make this announcement because our scientists are convinced by the data that the odds of getting or giving the virus to others is very, very low," said Biden. "If you've been both fully vaccinated and out in the open air, the CDC also has clarified which outdoor activities are safer or less safe, depending on whether you've been vaccinated."
Biden used the occasion to renew a plea to the unvaccinated, saying the relaxed mask guidance "is another great reason to go get vaccinated."
As of Tuesday, according to the CDC, nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated with 42 percent having received at least one shot.
"As we gather more and more data on the real-world efficacy of vaccines, we know that masked fully vaccinated people can safely attend worship services inside, go to an indoor restaurant or bar, and even participate in an indoor exercise class," CDC Director Dr. Rachel Walensky told reporters prior to the president's remarks.
Americans, however, need to remain more vigilant with others when indoors.
"There's increasing data that suggests that most of transmission is happening indoors rather than outdoors — less than 10 percent of documented transmission in many studies has occurred outdoors," explained Walensky. "We also know that there's almost a 20-fold increased risk of transmission in the indoor setting than in the outdoor setting."
One challenge health authorities face is a hesitancy among some of the unvaccinated to get their shots. That is partly due to concerns about the vaccines causing rare but serious side effects. The CDC voted late last week to permit the resumption of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine accompanied by a new warning about an increased risk of rare but life-threatening blood clots for adult women under 50.
Walensky told reporters on Tuesday that the CDC has not seen a link between heart inflammation and the vaccines.
"We have not seen a signal and we've actually looked intentionally for the signal in the over 200 million doses we've given," she said when asked about the Defense Department's investigation of 14 cases of heart inflammation among those vaccinated through the military's health services.
Israel's Health Ministry is examining a small number of cases of heart inflammation in people, mostly those under the age of 30, who had received Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Canadian province of Quebec has reported its first death of a patient, a 54-year-old woman, from the AstraZeneca vaccine due to clotting.