What about social distancing? CDC brings back masks for vaccinated, but not other pandemic restriction

Social distancing guidelines for vaccinated people were rescinded along with masking in agency's May update

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for fully vaccinated people in light of the delta variant do not include a social distancing recommendation for most people, as cities and states grapple with how, or whether, to implement the agency's latest proclamation. 

"No, the only change that we're making today is related to masking indoors," Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, said at a Thursday press conference when asked about potential social distancing rules. She announced a renewed mask mandate for her city in light of the CDC update. 

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Bringing back social distancing mandates could be very harmful for businesses because it could presumably function as a de facto capacity restriction. 

The CDC has emphasized the danger of the delta variant as part of the reason why it is necessary for vaccinated people to resume wearing masks. But it is not clear why social distancing recommendations are not included in the latest masking guidance, as they were rescinded with the CDC's last update for vaccinated people in May. That update said vaccinated people no longer needed masks.  

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adjusts her face mask during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The CDC this week announced new recommendations that Americans should wear masks even if vaccinated in many areas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adjusts her face mask during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The CDC this week announced new recommendations that Americans should wear masks even if vaccinated in many areas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)

MORE STATES AND CITIES, INCLUDING WASHINGTON, D.C., BRING BACK MASK MANDATES AFTER CONTROVERSIAL CDC GUIDANCE

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at the time.

The CDC's guidance page for vaccinated people – updated this week when it made its new recommendation that vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings – does not mention social distancing in the context of how vaccinated people should change their behavior in light of the delta variant. 

The only place it mentions staying six feet away from people from other households is in the context of preventative measures that immunocompromised people should continue to take even if they are vaccinated. 

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment on why it is not recommending social distancing – just masking – for most vaccinated people. 

The CDC notably changed some of its social distancing recommendations well before it made any change to its masking guidance. On March 19, the agency said that all elementary schools and most middle and high schools could allow for three feet of social distancing – rather than six – if universal masking was followed. It said high-transmission areas should still keep middle and high schoolers six feet apart, however. 

This suggests that the agency views masking at least somewhat independently from social distancing. 

The White House, meanwhile, declined to provide a timetable Thursday for when the mask guidance may be rescinded. 

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"There’s not a goal or ex- — you know, anything like that that we’re putting forth at this moment," Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "

Pressed further on whether Americans should trust the president that the U.S. will not return to lockdowns and school closures after the CDC's new guidance that Americans should wear masks, Jean-Pierre did not take those possibilities off the table – though she later attempted to clarify the comment in a tweet. 

"Well, we listen to — like I said, we listen to the CDC and the expert and their guidance," Jean-Pierre said at the press confernce.  "Our — you know, our — the CDC is a body that is very well respected.  And we fol- — again, we follow their guidance."

She later tweeted: "We will not be going back into lockdowns. Why? Because we now have the tools to put this virus behind us. The science says the vaccines work – including against the Delta variant. We urge Americans to get vaccinated."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.