This story was reported by Lisa L. Colangelo, David Olson and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Colangelo and Reich-Hale.
Long Island infectious disease experts welcomed new federal guidance that says vaccinated Americans don't need to wear masks outdoors unless they are in a big crowd of strangers, and those who are unvaccinated can go without a face covering outside in some cases, too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the update Tuesday in yet another carefully calibrated step on the road back to normalcy from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 570,000 people in the United States.
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.
New York will follow the CDC's updated guidance on masks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell's North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, said the change in CDC guidelines is "appropriate and in some ways long overdue."
Farber said he recommends people continue to wear a mask in crowded areas such as a baseball game, or a farmers market in Manhattan.
"The CDC is coming to the realization that the overwhelming majority of transmissions occur indoors," Farber said.
What to know
People who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks when outdoors and not in a large crowd.
People are considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Masks are still recommended outdoors in crowded settings or venues.
Local experts are hopeful the revised rules will spur more Long Islanders to get vaccinated.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, said people should think about the size of the crowd they’re in and the proximity of others.
"If you’re at an outdoor rally of 1,000 people, yes, you need to wear a mask," she said. "That’s close contact, it’s outdoors, but you’re super packed in together. You’re at a rally. You’re not social distancing. You’re chanting and talking to each other."
Likewise, if you’re unvaccinated and you’re having a long conversation with someone while walking the dog, it’s best to be cautious, especially because you may not know if the other person has health conditions that could put them at risk for more severe COVID-19, she said.
The new mask mandates reflect life returning closer to normal as more people get vaccinated, added Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.
Glatt said he hopes the new guidelines will serve as an incentive for people who have not yet been vaccinated.
But he said people should also be mindful of crowded outdoor areas.
"Just be extra cautious and put on a mask," he said. "It’s not the end of the world."
Nachman said she hoped the biggest take-home the public gets from the revised guidelines is that they are being relaxed because of vaccinations.
"We’re able to get to this point because we have a significant number of people already getting their vaccines," she said. "If we stop getting more people vaccinated, there is a potential this will backfire."
The CDC change comes as more than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.
The CDC guidance says that fully vaccinated or not, people do not have to wear masks outdoors when they walk, bike or run alone or with members of their household. They also can go maskless in small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people.
But from there, the CDC has differing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.
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.
Fully vaccinated people do not need to cover up in those situations, the CDC says.
However, everyone should keep wearing masks at crowded outdoor events such as concerts or sporting events, the CDC says.
The agency continues to recommend masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, museums and movie theaters.
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," Javid 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."