New guidelines say fully vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outside in most settings

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

Fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask outside, except in crowded settings, according to new federal guidance.

Delaware Division of Public Health spokesperson Sharon Smith said the agency is reviewing the updates and "will discuss any changes" to state policy at a virtual town hall Wednesday at 6 p.m.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its recommendations throughout the pandemic, Delaware has typically updated its own guidance to match the CDC.

Beachgoers wear masks on the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach last Fourth of July.

According to the new guidance released Tuesday by the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals don't need to wear a mask while walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their households.

Vaccinated people also don’t need to wear a mask during small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends or at gatherings with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

In addition, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.

The CDC recommends people continue to wear a mask in crowded outdoor events such as a live performance, parade or sporting event. They also recommend masking at a barbershop or hair salon, an uncrowded indoor shopping mall or museum, a small indoor gathering with unvaccinated individuals, an indoor movie theater and in a house of worship.

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

About half of Delawareans 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Thirty-four percent of Delawareans 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

As recent as last week, state officials said vaccinated individuals should still wear masks outdoors. 

"We always say outdoors is safer, but we have plenty of stories, plenty of cases where it appears that the individual became infected in an outdoor setting," Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay told Delaware Online/The News Journal last week.

"Just because it's safer doesn't mean you can't become infected outdoors, and there's still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. It's safer, I mean, but ideally, you know, unless you're absolutely 6 feet apart, you should, you should just wear a mask outdoors."

Amillion The Poet, of Dover, encourages others to keep a mask on in his new music video, "The Quarantine."

Delaware's current mask mandate requires face coverings in public settings and any time people are around others who do not live in their household.

Since early March, fully vaccinated people in Delaware have been able to gather with others who are fully vaccinated inside their homes without masks or distancing, according to the state's guidance. They've also been able to visit with unvaccinated people from another household if the unvaccinated people are at low risk for severe disease.

Delaware has primarily relied on voluntary compliance to enforce its COVID-19 gathering restrictions and mask rules for the general public.

A man without a mask waits in line to vote at Brandywine High School Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Wilmington.

State officials have encouraged people to move events and gatherings outdoors whenever possible because COVID-19 transmission is far less likely outdoors compared with indoors.

Delaware's COVID-19 restrictions are also crafted with that premise in mind.

Up to 150 people can attend outdoor gatherings at certain venues, and even more can be allowed if a plan is approved by the Division of Public Health. Private indoor gatherings are still limited to 10 people, a restriction implemented in November ahead of the holiday surge.

Contact Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.