Restaurant patrons can safely sit at an outdoor table without wearing a facemask if they and everyone in their party has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday.
Patrons dining indoors should continue wearing a face-covering regardless of their vaccination status, though inoculated guests have a low risk of contracting the viral disease, the agency said.
The pronouncements are a change in the agency’s guidance, and not necessarily in the rules set by states and municipalities for dining in their jurisdictions. But because most of those regulations are based on the CDC’s stated best practices, many areas will likely adjust their requirements accordingly in the near term.
It is not clear what effect the change in guidance will have on restaurants. As CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted in announcing the update, it is difficult to differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in a crowded setting. A restaurant would have no way of knowing if a party is fully vaccinated unless it asked for proof, a practice already being assailed by many government officials and individuals as an invasion of privacy. Florida, Texas and Arizona have already banned so-called vaccine passports—proof of inoculation in digital or paper form—from being required at any public-sector event.
In announcing the change in guidance, Walensky cited research showing that only 10% of coronavirus infections are contracted outdoors and that about 37% of Americans have now been fully vaccinated.
The CDC defines a fully vaccinated person as someone who is two weeks past their final injection of a vaccine.