A mask lies on the ground.
A mask lies on the ground. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Fully vaccinated people in the U.S. can (in most cases) shed their masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday in perhaps the most significant guideline update since the CDC recommended mask use to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Local officials said Thursday that they would be meeting to discuss “how to operationalize” the new CDC guidelines.

“I think you’re going to be able to see people smile again,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “And there’s good reason to do that if they’ve been vaccinated.”

The measure comes as daily vaccinations in the U.S. have dropped off in recent weeks with a more abundant supply eluding the arms of those who hesitate to get the shot and others who actively resist it.

But the Biden administration will hope the prospect of ditching their masks in most public settings will entice people who are straddling the vaccine fence.

In addition to allowing people to remove their masks, the updates also pertain to social distancing, exempting fully vaccinated people from the practices except where required by law, business policy, or workplace guidance. People riding public transit, flying on a plane, or visiting health care facilities are still advised to wear masks and practice social distancing.

I wouldn’t expect overnight changes in light of this announcement. Businesses such as grocers, restaurants, and retail stores seem likely to keep their masking policies in effect at least until a sizable majority of the population is fully vaccinated.

My colleague Shari Biediger reached out to area businesses Thursday to ask whether they would update their policies. Most were not ready to throw caution to the wind just yet, and many had yet to confer on the topic. City-owned properties such as municipal buildings and the River Walk won’t see any immediate changes to their mask guidelines, said Michelle Vigil, a spokeswoman for the City. That may change after meetings slated for the next few days.

Chef Johnny Hernandez, owner of La Gloria and other restaurants, told Biediger he had yet to review the CDC’s changes.

“I will need to read the recommendations carefully,” Hernandez said. “Nothing changes until we give this careful thought.”

Nan Palmero, director of marketing at Office Furniture Liquidations, said the store would no longer require employees who are fully vaccinated to wear masks, nor will customers have to wear them. But any customer or employee wishing to wear one “will be welcome to do so,” he said.

What do you think of the news? Will you happily shed your mask in public spaces? Or will you remain cautious until more people get vaccinated? Let us know.

Starting Friday, children ages 12-15 will be able to get vaccinated at the Alamodome. Children will need parental consent before getting the shot. University Health is also offering the COVID-19 vaccine to children in that age group. As a reminder, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one children ages 12-17 can receive.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.