The country's top public health body, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced stunning new guidance t
hat fully vaccinated people no longer need to cover their faces in most situations, indoors or outside. Hugs and handshakes are back too!
In the middle of a meeting, President Joe Biden -- who has scrupulously observed CDC guidance -- took off his own mask. "Free at last," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We feel naked," added a maskless first lady Jill Biden during a trip to West Virginia.
Officials said the move was justified because recent scientific data increasingly shows that vaccinated people are not only highly protected, but also unlikely to spread Covid-19 to anybody else. The announcement was one of the most important and moving moments of the pandemic, at least since vaccines emerged. The mask, which has covered up the world's smiles, had long been a symbol of the deprivations of a terrible year. "I think it's a great milestone, a great day," Biden said.
But the CDC's decision immediately raised a flurry of questions and consequences
, including a debate over whether an agency often criticized for being too cautious had suddenly gone too far.
Masks will still be required on public transport — which raises the question of why the science that suggests mask wearing is OK inside for the vaccinated does not apply to those situations.
The CDC recommendations also mean new questions for employers as they think about welcoming workers back to the office, and for restaurants, bars and local authorities as they are implemented in everyday life. Should they have the right to ask people to prove they are vaccinated before letting them in?
The guidance raises the possibility that those Americans who have long chafed at mask wearing and have no intention of getting the vaccine — often conservatives — will take off their masks as well. Such a scenario could ensure that the virus continues to circulate and is never fully stamped out.
These are issues on which the White House will have to offer guidance in the coming days. But for now, it's all a sudden novelty. As Biden said: "Americans should be able to greet each other with a smile."
Americans emerging from a year of isolation are getting a nasty shock — everything is more expensive than before Covid-19 struck.
US consumer prices spiked 4.2% in April from a year earlier, stoking fears of overheating in a still-fragile economy. The monthly data shows the biggest 12-month jump since the September 2008 financial crisis. Food prices are up. The cost of used cars
is soaring. It's more expensive to buy groceries and to eat out at restaurants as demand grows. Flights, hotel rooms and new beds are pricier than a year ago.
Some of the problems are endemic to an economy that has been largely shuttered for a year and is now opening up. One reason cars are more expensive, for example, is because auto giants closed or limited production when the virus was raging and haven't yet caught up. There are also supply chain issues elsewhere in the economy — for instance, in semiconductor chips.
The rise in inflation might also be a little exacerbated by the fact that prices were unnaturally low a year ago, when the pandemic erupted. Right now, the Federal Reserve says it's sticking with its policy of keeping interest rates near zero but if it takes remedial action in months ahead stock prices could fall.
The rise in inflation also underscores the delicate balance that Biden faces in nursing the economy back to life at a time when millions of Americans are still without jobs. The top Republicans in Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, both emerged from White House talks Wednesday and mentioned rising prices. It's never good news for a President if the dollars in people's pockets don't go as far as they used to.
For now at least, there's no panic at the White House — and officials are even arguing that the rise in prices is a sign that Americans are willing to come out of quarantine after getting vaccinated. White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week argued that some transitory increases in inflation were to be expected as America resumed activity: "That's something that we have prepared for and that most economists say will be temporary."