BILLINGS - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday if you are fully vaccinated for Covid-19, you can shed your mask and stop social distancing in most indoor settings.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said "Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing."
Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton told MTN News this just shows how good the vaccines are and is a “huge step forward,” but he said we have a long way to go.
He said currently about 40% of Yellowstone County is fully immunized.
Felton hopes the chance to remove masks and remain safe will motivate people to get vaccinated.
"So, what's expected is that if you're, if you're one of the 40% then you kind of just got this Get Out of Jail Free card. If you're one of the 60%, you for the good of your community, those folks still need to be masked when they are out in public."
There are a few exceptions to the CDC new guidance. Health officials recommend masks still be worn in highly crowded indoor spaces, including schools, healthcare, correctional and transportation settings.
The guidance also warns anyone who starts to feel symptoms, to put on a mask, along with anyone who is immunocompromised.
“People who are significantly immunocompromised, they know it," said Felton, "and so they're very careful because they recognize the risks of themselves.”
Felton said right now only about 15% of the 16 to 24-year-old population is vaccinated, so that means schools should keep the guidelines in place.
“They're there together for extended periods of time," he said, "Starting today, we can vaccinate down to age 12, so that will help with that. Hopefully we'll have a lot of parents and families coming out to get vaccinated together.”
Felton says with only three weeks of school left, he encourages students to keep their masks on, but get vaccinated as soon as they can.
“That may change as we as we get a bigger proportion of that population vaccine… I'd really encourage people, continue to wear your mask in school get through the year safely get vaccinated over the summer and be ready to roll them when school starts in the fall.”
Fully vaccinated means you're at least two weeks out since your final vaccine, whether it was one Johnson and Johnson or two Pfizer or Moderna shots.