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CDC: Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks

A blue surgical mask, crumpled, rests on leafy debris.
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio
A discarded mask in a Billings, Mont. alley, Nov. 25, 2020.

Federal health officials say people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can go about life mask-free, though some places still require them. Some local health officials say the change could motivate unvaccinated people to get the shot.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says real-world data show that fully vaccinated people becoming infected with COVID-19 is rare. The CDC now says fully vaccinated people, meaning those two weeks out from their final dose, can go mask-free and don’t need to social distance indoors, even in crowds. Fully vaccinated people also don’t need to get tested or isolate after a known exposure. 

Lewis and Clark County Public Health spokesperson Damian Boudreau says the county is still absorbing the new guidance, and health officials will meet Friday to talk about how local messaging could change. He says the idea of a mask-free life could incentivize some to get their shot.

“It may be a way to give people that final push. Maybe they’ve been sitting on the fence and now that the CDC has come out with that guidance, we really hope people will go out and get vaccinated.”

Lincoln County Public Health Manager Jennifer McCully agrees.

“Before there was this sense of, you know, ‘why get vaccinated, it doesn’t change anything.’ And that’s just not true now.”

In an emailed statement, state health department Director Adam Meier said that “CDC’s new, updated guidance follows what Montanans have known all along: folks who are fully immunized don’t need to wear a mask. It’s just common sense.” Meier adds that he also hopes the guidance will get more people in for their shot.

County public health officials in recent weeks have said younger, unvaccinated people have been driving new cases

Gov. Greg Gianforte recently signed a bill into law nullifying local public health restrictions such as masking and social distancing. Federal rules requiring masks on planes and trains are still in effect. 

Tribal nations in Montana say their mask mandates are also still in play. Blackfeet Nation spokesperson James McNeely says the tribe will be sticking with previous guidance.

“Right now the council has not convened together and we have not heard from our local health officials if we’re going to change at this time. We will stay with the mask mandate until then.”

A spokesperson with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes says tribal health officials are working to reflect the new CDC masking guidance, but says it’s unclear how that will work in practice.
Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.