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UPDATE: ‘Return of freedom’: CDC says fully vaccinated can go outside without masks

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Masks still recommended for indoor gatherings, crowded outdoor events.

Americans who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus don’t need to wear protective masks outdoors any longer, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The CDC is continuing to recommend masks for indoor gatherings or crowded outdoor events. Masks are no longer required for such activities as outdoor walking, running, hiking or biking; small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends; small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people; and dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from other households.

Fully vaccinated people can also attend “a crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event,” as long as they remain masked, according to the CDC.

For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other.

The CDC released the new guidelines shortly before President Joe Biden was set to provide an update on the pandemic.

“Earlier today the CDC made an important announcement. Starting today if you are fully vaccinated and outdoors, not in a big crowd, you can go without a mask,” the president said, noting that masks are still required in crowded spaces, such as a music concert, regardless if it is outdoors.

But when it comes to gathering with a group of friends in the park or going for a picnic, “you can do this without a mask,” he said, noting that the federal health agency was able to change its guidance because the “odds of getting or giving the virus are very low out in open air.

“If you are vaccinated you can do more things more safely indoors and outdoors,” the president continued. “For those who haven’t gotten it, this is another good reason to get vaccinated. It’s about saving your life [and the lives] of those around you; it’s about getting back to normal life.”

Over the weekend, the CDC updated its guidelines and recommendations for summer camps just weeks before many camps resume operations in mid-May.

Children going to camp this summer can be within 3 feet of each other in the same-group settings, but they must wear masks at all times. The only times children should remove their masks is when they are swimming, napping, eating or drinking; they should be spaced far apart for these activities, positioned head to toe for naps and seated at least 6 feet apart for meals, snacks and water breaks.

“It’s the return of freedom,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s the return of us being able to do normal activities again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the exit ramp. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

More people need to be vaccinated, and concerns persist about variants and other possible shifts in the epidemic. But Saag said the new guidance is a sensible reward following the development and distribution of effective vaccines and about 140 million Americans stepping forward to get their shots.

Unvaccinated people — defined by the CDC as those who have yet to receive both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula — should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. They also should keep using masks at outdoor restaurants.

The coronavirus has killed more than 572,000 people in the U.S., the highest death toll in the world.

Dr. Babak Javid, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the new CDC guidance is sensible. “In the vast majority of outdoor scenarios, transmission risk is low,” he said.

Javid has favored outdoor mask-wearing requirements because he believes they increase indoor mask-wearing, but he said Americans can understand the relative risks and make good decisions.

“The key thing is to make sure people wear masks indoors” while in public spaces, he said.

He added: “I’m looking forward to mask-free existence.”

“The timing is right because we now have a fair amount of data about the scenarios where transmission occurs,” said Mercedes Carnethon, a professor and vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

What’s more, she said, “the additional freedoms may serve as a motivator” for people to get vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


 

 

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Hometown Hall United States COVID-19 Update May 2

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Global COVID cases top 150 million; U.S. death toll surpasses 575,000

By The Associated Press

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The U.S. still leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but while the pandemic is showing signs of slowing here, other nations remain in desperate conditions.

On Thursday, Brazil became the second nation to surpass 400,000 COVID deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Only the U.S. has more, with more than 575,000 dead since the pandemic began more than a year ago. Approximately 100,000 people have died in Brazil over the last month.

Brazil’s Health Ministry registered more than 4,000 deaths on two days early in the month, and its seven-day average topped out at above 3,100. That figure has tilted downward in the last two weeks, to less than 2,400 deaths per day, though on Thursday the Health Ministry announced another 3,001 deaths, bringing Brazil’s total to 401,186.

Local health experts have celebrated the recent decline of cases and deaths, plus the eased pressure on the Brazilian health care system — but only modestly. They are apprehensive of another wave of the disease, like those seen in some European nations, due to a premature resumption of activity in states and cities combined with slow vaccination rollout.

Less than 6% of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. President Jair Bolsonaro, who is now being investigated by a Senate panel over his administration’s handling of the crisis, has repeated he will be the last to get a shot and he has attacked mayors and governors who enforce restrictions to control the virus’ spread.

Shortly after the grim landmark was published, Bolsonaro said in a live broadcast on his social media channels that “a big number of deaths has been announced,” adding that he is “sorry for every death.” But he repeated his stance against social distancing measures.

“I pray to God so there is not a third wave” of the coronavirus, the president said. “But if the lockdown policies continue this country will be dragged to extreme poverty.”

Globally, more than 150 million COVID cases have been reported, with India trailing the U.S. in that category. India has tried to fight skyrocketing coronavirus infections by increasing its production of vaccines and banning their export, cutting off supplies to neighbors such as Bangladesh and Nepal as they struggle with infection surges of their own.

These nations have imposed lockdowns as residents of big cities flee to the countryside seeking safety. They are also turning to China and Russia for vaccines in a desperate effort to deal with a pandemic that is becoming bigger and deadlier across South Asia.

Although new, more transmissible variants appear to be partly behind the surge, experts say other factors are contributing, including large holiday gatherings and growing fatigue with social distancing and mask wearing.

Elsewhere, Europe’s economy shrank 0.6% in the first three months of the year as slow vaccine rollouts and extended lockdowns delayed a hoped-for recovery, and underlined how the region is lagging other major economies in rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

The fall in output for the 19 countries that use the euro currency was smaller than the 1% contraction expected by economists but still far short of the rebound underway in the United States and China, two other pillars of the global economy.

Figures announced Thursday showed the U.S. economy grew 1.6% during the first quarter, with business supported by strong consumer demand. On an annualized basis, the U.S. grew 6.4%.

In Europe, the second straight quarter of falling output confirms the region is in a double-dip pandemic recession after a rebound in growth in the third quarter. Two quarters of falling output is one definition of a recession.

France showed unexpected growth of 0.4% compared to the quarter before, while the main negative surprise came in Germany, the continent’s largest economy. Activity there shrank by a larger-than-expected 1.7% as the manufacturing sector was hit by disruption of parts supplies on top of the hit to services and travel from pandemic-related restrictions on activity.

French authorities are anticipating the COVID-19 outlook in the country to be better next month, when a greater proportion of the population will be vaccinated. The government is slowly starting to lift partial lockdowns, despite still-high numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalized COVID-19 patients. President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that the outdoor terraces of France’s cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen on May 19 along with museums, cinemas, theaters and concert halls under certain conditions.

Worry about a potential second straight lost vacation season has clouded the outlook for Mediterranean countries Italy, Spain and Greece, which rely heavily on tourism. Greece has lifted quarantine restrictions on visitors from EU countries and will allow restaurants and cafes to reopen for outdoor service from May 3. Travel receipts there sank 75% last year.

Economists said they expected an upturn in the coming weeks as vaccinations accelerate. The International Monetary Fund forecasts growth of 4.4% for the eurozone for all of this year. Thus far, Europe’s unemployment rate has increased only gradually to 8.1% in March, thanks to extensive furlough support programs that help companies keep workers on. The U.S. saw its jobless rate fall to 6.0% after spiking as high as 14.8% during the worst of the pandemic.

A major factor holding back the recovery in Europe is the slow vaccine rollout, which has led to prolonged lockdowns. Another is less fiscal support for the economy from new government spending. U.S. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion relief package, coupled with spending from earlier support efforts, will mean additional cash support of about 11-12% of annual economic output for this year, according to economists at UniCredit bank. By contrast, the European fiscal stimulus amounts to about 6% of gross domestic product, even after Europe’s more extensive social safety net is factored in.

China was hit first by the pandemic but got it under control through strict public health measures and was the only major economy to grow in 2020. The U.S. was hard hit by the virus but has rolled out vaccinations at a rapid pace.