Washington, May 17 : The new mask guidance for vaccinated individuals does not grant permission for widespread removal of masks, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said.
"If they're vaccinated, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated, they are not safe. They should still be wearing a mask or better yet, get vaccinated," Xinhua news agency quoted Walensky as saying on ABC News on Sunday.
The CDC Director and other health officials have stressed that their guidance is up to individuals to follow and if vaccinated people wish to continue wearing their masks they can.
"We wanted to deliver the science of the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community's level," she said.
Since the new mask guidance was announced on May 13, many states, local governments and businesses have updated their ordinances based on the CDC's recommendation that vaccinated individuals can be without face coverings indoors, outdoors or in large crowds.
The guidelines still call for masks to be worn on public transportation and in homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons.
Some states, including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, are keeping their universal mask mandates intact.
Meanwhile, schools should continue to require face masks "at all times, by all people in school facilities" for the rest of the academic year, according to updated CDC guidance issued on Saturday.
Strict rules requiring mask use and physical distancing should remain in schools nationwide "regardless of the level of community transmission" of coronavirus, the CDC insisted.
That's because "students will not be fully vaccinated by the end of the 2020-2021 school year", and school systems will need time to make "systems and policy adjustments" relating to their mask rules, t added.
"The challenge here is that not everybody is eligible for vaccination," Walensky told ABC on Sunday.
"We still have children under the age of 11 and they should obviously still be wearing masks. So, if you're unvaccinated, we are saying, wear a mask, contine to distance if you're unvaccinated and practice all of those mitigation strategies." "We are asking people to take their health into their own hands to get vaccinated, and if they don't, then they continue to be at risk," she added.
No coronavirus vaccine has yet been authorised for children under age 12, and the Pfizer two-dose jab won approval for 12-to-15-year-olds just days ago, but not enough time before the school year ends for full immunity to kick in.
The changes come as more than one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated, and also as the average number of new cases slipped below 35,000, the lowest since September 2020.