While announcing measures to incentivize Covid-19 vaccinations on Thursday, President Joe Biden suggested people in states with high vaccination rates do not need to wear masks. The reality is slightly more complicated.
Speaking from the East Room with a mask in his hand, Biden said, “In a significant part of the country you wouldn’t have to take one of these off because you don’t have to put one on. Like in my home state of Delaware, where I lived in New Castle County, where I was yesterday in Pennsylvania. Because people got vaccinated. They got vaccinated. They don’t need a mask when the majority, the vast majority of the people got vaccinated.”
Facts First: Just because you live in an area where the majority of people have been vaccinated does not necessarily mean you “don’t need a mask” in certain situations. The latest mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on the level of transmission and Covid-19 case rate in an area, not specifically the rate of vaccination, which Biden noted later in his remarks.
On Tuesday the CDC updated its mask guidance to recommend that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial or high transmission” of Covid-19, which included more than two-thirds of all US counties as of Tuesday, according to CDC data.
To be fair to Biden, some of the places with the highest vaccination rates, like Vermont, also have low case rates and fall under the category of areas with moderate or low transmission which the CDC says don’t need masks. However, there are several areas, including the District of Columbia, where over 50% of the population is vaccinated but case rates are high enough that the CDC recommends even vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor spaces.
It’s worth noting that according to CDC data compiled by CNN, DC has a vaccination rate close to that of New Castle County, which Biden cited. But because DC has a higher case rate, it’s considered an area of substantial transmission, while New Castle County is only an area of moderate transmission. Per the CDC guidelines, that means vaccinated individuals in New Castle County don’t need to wear a mask indoors while DC Mayor Muriel Bowser just reinstated DC’s mask mandate starting Saturday.
The bottom line? If you’re vaccinated and trying to determine whether the CDC would recommend you wear a mask indoors or if a mask mandate is likely imminent in your area, check the case rate, not the vaccination rate.