The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, changed its guidelines Tuesday on wearing masks outdoors to prevent coronavirus infection.
The CDC said fully vaccinated Americans do not need to continue covering their faces with masks unless they are in a large group of people. It added that even some unvaccinated people can go outside without masks in some situations.
The CDC has been telling Americans since the start of the health crisis to wear masks if they were within two meters of other people.
The decision marked the U.S. government's latest step toward normal conditions. But it came as much of the country already had moved on from mask rules.
In the small town of Oxford in Nebraska, the local schools stopped requiring masks last month. It was an easy decision: there were few cases of coronavirus. Local officials were not concerned about guidelines from the CDC.
The CDC federal mask guidelines just did not seem to fit local conditions. In the town of about 800 people, very few wear a mask. Saying the town did not pay attention to federal guidelines, the head of Southern Valley, Bryce Jorgensen, added "you just can't compare Chicago to Oxford, Nebraska. Things are just different."
On the same day as the CDC decision, Louisiana's Democratic governor removed part of the state's mask requirement. Around the country, local government leaders have been doing away with mask rules. Alabama's governor did not renew the state's mask requirement law earlier this month.
In Montgomery, Alabama, 73-year-old Judy Adams said she has not worn a mask outside since the early days of the pandemic a year ago. She usually wears them only to enter stores that require them. "It's not helping," she said of mask rules. "This is about control and fear."
The federal government has struggled to create public health rules that all states can follow. The CDC has released guidelines on masks, social distancing, travel and other activities. But, it is state governors who decide if they will be enforced.
On Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said: "Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what you can't do. Today, I am going to tell you some of the things you can do, if you are fully vaccinated."
The CDC says that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. An unvaccinated person can also go without a mask when outdoors with those who are vaccinated. But unvaccinated people should wear masks when with other unvaccinated people, the CDC said.
In addition, the CDC said everyone, fully vaccinated or not, should keep wearing masks at outdoor events made up of large groups, such as sporting events.
The CDC also says that continuing to wear a mask in public places is still the safest thing to do, even for those who have been vaccinated.
The change comes as more than 50 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 33 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Walensky said the decision was the result of increasing vaccinations as well as decreases in new cases. New research shows that less than 10 percent of cases are spread outdoors.
In Plano, Texas, Rob Webster, a 49-year-old church employee, said the new guidelines sound "reasonable." But he still has concerns.
"I don't know if I were around a group of people who weren't wearing masks, are they really vaccinated?...It makes me maybe a little more fearful and less trusting of the people around me," he said.
I'm Susan Shand.