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Vaccination and going maskless: Is it really safe?

Our expert answers your questions.

Illustration of people jubilantly throwing their masks in the air Photo: Getty Images

Please note that this content is accurate as of the date of publication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now states that if you’re fully vaccinated, you can resume the activities you enjoyed before the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Here are some examples of what you can do.

In general, you are considered fully vaccinated:  

  • Two weeks after your second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • Two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you are still required to wear your mask and practice social distancing in health care settings, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices and nursing homes, and public transportation, such as buses and airplanes.

Why did the rules change so suddenly? Is the rule-change really a good idea? And what about all the exceptions to the rule? Here to explain is VCU Health infectious disease expert Michael Stevens, M.D.

Why are public health measures being lifted or relaxed now? What was the turning point?

The change is based on a building body of evidence showing the real-world effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines at preventing infection and transmission.  

Are we taking a giant risk by relaxing these measures? Is it really safe for people who are vaccinated to go maskless? 

The key is to follow the CDC guidance closely. This means that masks are still required in a number of settings, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, on buses, etc.

It’s also critical that people who are immunocompromised not relax using masks.

If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, you should by all means continue to do so.

The vaccines are about 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, but not 100 percent. Should I wear a mask anyway and practice social distancing, to be on the safe side?

Your actual risk for developing COVID-19 infection is based on a number of variables, including whether you’ve been vaccinated and local COVID-19 activity.

Although things are improving in the United States, there is still a strong risk that you may encounter someone with COVID-19 in the community. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask and continuing to practice social distancing, you should by all means continue to do so.

Although all of the available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. markedly reduce your risk of becoming infected and severely ill with COVID-19, they don’t eliminate the risk for infection entirely.  

If you have unvaccinated people at home, or you regular interact with people who are immunocompromised, it is reasonable to continue masking, especially in higher risk environments like indoor settings and wherever there are a lot of people around.

What about large crowds? If I've been vaccinated, can I go to large-scale events, like crowded art fairs, festivals or concerts (indoors and outdoors) without my mask? When is an event considered "too crowded" to go maskless? 

If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC indicates you can now do things like going to an indoor movie theater without wearing a mask. However, it’s important to note that your risk for infection increases in indoor areas and with larger crowds. If you feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask, then you should by all means continue to do so.

If I've been vaccinated and don't wear a mask, should I practice social distancing anyway, just to be safe?

If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer have to follow physical distancing requirements except as required by businesses or local regulations. If you have an immune compromising condition, you should continue to follow all precautions, including physical distancing.

What about children under age 12? Do they still have to wear a mask in public, even with people who are vaccinated?

Children under the age of 12 should continue to follow all precautions, including mask wearing and physical distancing, as outlined by the CDC.

For more information

For a variety of news and information on COVID-19 and how VCU Health is keeping patients safe, please visit our COVID-19 News Center

See All News See Vaccine News

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