Eased mask mandates haven't fueled new COVID-19 cases, early data shows

The CDC's eased mask restrictions haven't yet been tied to any new COVID-19 surges, according to data tracked by The New York Times.

Fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines in most indoor settings, according to the agency's guidelines announced May 13. 

Almost three weeks after the change, newly reported infections have declined at the same rate they were dropping the month before the agency's update. Nationwide, daily new cases have dropped nearly 75 percent since mid-April and more than 90 percent since mid-January, reports the Times.

The new guidelines have had a noticeable effect on vaccine sentiment and vaccination levels, with interest increasing significantly immediately after the guidelines were announced. More importantly, vaccination trends also changed. The number of daily shots given in the U.S. had been falling for nearly a month, but the decline leveled off within a few days of May 13, reports the Times. 

Most Americans likely haven't changed their behavior in ways that create new risks, according to the Times. Vaccinated people are wearing masks less often, but are also highly unlikely to get COVID-19. Moreover, many unvaccinated individuals were already not wearing masks before the change.

Dr. Walensky reiterated that the guidance is only meant for fully vaccinated people during a May 16 Fox News interview, urging unvaccinated Americans to "get vaccinated or continue to wear your mask." 

One of the few worrisome scenarios involves unvaccinated people who had been wearing masks and have stopped doing so since the CDC revision. More than a dozen U.S. retail, hospitality and fast-food workers voiced concern about the CDC change to the Times, saying their employers have used it to make masks optional for vaccinated customers. Many employees said they felt more exposed now, particularly in areas where employer policies were one of the only things protecting staff from customers who are neither masked nor vaccinated. However, the Times notes that this group doesn't appear large enough to affect current data.


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