The CDC Says Fully Vaccinated People Don’t Need Masks Anymore. Here’s What That Means In Colorado

May 14, 2021
KEYSTONE-FACE-MASK-PPE-SOCIAL-DISTANCE-201111KEYSTONE-FACE-MASK-PPE-SOCIAL-DISTANCE-201111Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The CDC's new guidance won't immediately change rules across Colorado.

Updated May 14, 1:39 p.m.

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the most part no longer need to wear masks or social distance indoors or outdoors, according to the latest guidance from federal health officials. What do Colorado's rules say? Here's an explainer.

What the CDC says: 

If it’s been two weeks since your final dose, you don’t need to cover your face or maintain social distances in most situations no matter the occupancy or crowd size, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The exceptions? People who are vaccinated must still wear a mask inside healthcare settings and businesses that require it as well as on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. That includes anyone traveling into, within or out of the United States and while at airports and train or bus stations. The CDC also recommends that people with compromised immune systems consult with their doctors to determine what’s best for them.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing. “We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

The big takeaway: If you want to stop wearing a mask and to see mask mandates go away in your city or county, you should get vaccinated. Information on where and how to do that is here

What Colorado says: 

On Thursday, May 13, Colorado health officials said that the CDC’s mask recommendation won’t immediately impact Colorado. However, a day later, that changed. Here's where things stand now, and how we got here.

April

In April, Gov. Jared Polis amended Colorado’s statewide mask mandate and released counties from requiring indoor mask wearing if they have under 35 COVID cases per week, per 100,000 people

However, in counties that are not meeting this threshold, people must continue to wear masks in public, indoor spaces that have 10 or more people who have not been vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown. 

May 2

Polis tweaked the order again in early May, loosening restrictions just a bit more to say that mask wearing would not be required in most public places if 80 percent of the people there are vaccinated and can show proof. It was not, however, clear on how that was to be enforced or how people can prove it if they, for example, lose their vaccination card.

May 14

In an update on May 14, Gov. Polis aligned the state of Colorado with the CDC guidelines and ended the statewide the mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated. “If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask at all,” Polis said. But he added that if you are not vaccinated the state will continue to “suggest” that you wear a mask when indoors around strangers.

However, there are some places in Colorado that may still require you to wear a mask — whether you've been vaccinated or not. Keep reading.

Ok, wait. So I still may need to wear a mask in certain places, even if I'm vaccinated?

Yes.

Masks may still be required at events with more than 500 people, and will likely still required for most schools, childcare and health care settings and in any other business that requires them. But now even teachers and students who are fully vaccinated can ditch the mask for the last few weeks of school if their school district agrees, even inside the school if they choose.

In an update on May 14, Polis said that businesses retain the right to require masks for the protection of customers and employees. Polis said he will continue to carry a mask in his pocket, and politely put it on if asked by a business owner.

The restrictions on gatherings of more than 500 people, which have been occurring through waivers issued by the state health department, are now set to expire on June 1. After that, concerts, sporting events and other big summer gatherings could proceed more or less normally.

This could however all change again by early June — and updated CDC guidance could lead state officials to change restrictions even sooner. 

What some health professionals say: 

Dr. David Wyles, who heads the infectious diseases division at Denver Health, echoes what many federal and local health officials and President Joe Biden have said.

“The medical science is clear that the vaccinated people are really very safe,” Wyles said. “The problem is people who aren't vaccinated.”

But the CDC’s latest advice could make for a tricky public health situation, he adds.

“In a setting where it's going to be impossible to tell out in the community who's vaccinated, who's not, and you walk into a store and don't have your mask on, undoubtedly some people are going to take that negatively even if you're vaccinated,” Wyles said.

Dr. Michell Barron, who heads the infectious disease division at UCHealth, pointed to an improvement when it comes to case rates, but she said plenty of people may decide to keep wearing masks.

“I think that's something to remember. The guidelines will certainly be updated, but you don't want to do that in the middle of when cases are still very much out there,” she said.

So when is this all going to be over?  

It’s still hard to say. And some experts think that COVID-19 could be with the world for good, with cyclical outbreaks and mutations possible.

When it comes to reaching herd immunity, the idea is that when enough people get vaccinated, or have survived COVID-19, then we can keep the virus at bay worldwide. And in Colorado, doing our part means getting vaccinated. Across the state, it’s clear that areas with the highest vaccination rates have the lowest COVID case rates.

“The sooner you want to get back to normal, we need to get to those rates where over 80 percent of the population has been vaccinated,” Wyles said. “I'm hoping once we get through the height of summer and into fall, that we'll be to a place where... we really can be without masks in a lot of places and resuming a little more normal life.”

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