The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finally catching up to the science.
For months, research about Covid-19 has pointed to two encouraging patterns. First, the underlying virus that causes Covid rarely spreads outdoors. Second — and even more important — fully vaccinated people are at virtually no risk of serious disease and only a minuscule risk of spreading the virus to others.
But the C.D.C., which has long been a cautious agency, has been unwilling to highlight these facts. It has instead focused on tiny risks — risks that are smaller than those from, say, taking a car trip. The C.D.C.’s intricate list of recommended Covid behavior has baffled many Americans and frightened others, making the guidance less helpful than it might have been.
Yesterday, the agency effectively acknowledged it had fallen behind the scientific evidence: Even though that evidence has not changed in months, the C.D.C. overhauled its guidelines. It said fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks in most settings, including crowded indoor gatherings.
The change sends a message: Vaccination means the end of the Covid crisis, for individuals and ultimately for society.
long accepted without upending our lives, like riding in a car, taking a swim or exposing ourselves to the common cold.
‘Evidence-based’ and ‘bold’
The announcement also sends a message to the unvaccinated (who, the C.D.C. emphasized, should continue wearing masks in most settings): Life is starting to return to normal, and a vaccine shot is your best protection against a deadly virus. It is also the best way to protect your community and the rest of the world. And the long vaccine waits and difficult sign-up procedures are disappearing in most places.
Some experts praised the announcement. “Good move for the C.D.C. and our country,” Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale School of Medicine professor and former Senate staff member, wrote on Twitter. “They must stop making perfect the enemy of very good. And this is a step in that direction.”
Dr. Uché Blackstock, the C.E.O. of Advancing Health Equity, wrote: “I’m ecstatic about this news! It’s evidence-based and it’s bold. I hope that the updated guidelines incentivize more people to get vaccinated.”
Other experts worried that encouraging vaccinated people not to wear masks might cause unvaccinated people to shed them too — the so-called slippery-slope argument. It is a common concern whenever health authorities lift behavior restrictions. But history suggests it is often overblown. An absolutist message often fails, Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School has noted, especially when it urges people to take steps that do not actually protect them.
criticized the C.D.C. during a hearing this week for not hewing to the data — and she argued that the change would lead to safer behavior. “This really matters because if people don’t have confidence in the C.D.C. guidance, if they believe it is driven more by politics than science, then they are likely to disregard the C.D.C. guidelines that we should be following,” Collins said.