Fully vaccinated Americans can stop wearing a face mask in most indoor and outdoor settings, top US health officials have advised.
Physical distancing can also cease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The latest guidance comes as rates of vaccinations begin to slow, with about 35% of Americans now fully vaccinated.
Experts say the change could herald a “return to normalcy”. They hope it will encourage more people to get the jab.
In another sign the pandemic is on the wane, the president of the 1.7m-member American Federation of Teachers labour union called on Thursday for schools to fully reopen in the autumn.
It comes after Pfizer’s vaccine was approved for children ages 12 to 15.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday at the White House: “Today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you have stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
The guidance does not apply to health care facilities or places such as prisons and homeless shelters. Masks are also still advised for planes and other public transport.
The CDC’s guidance does not supersede local ordinances, and some businesses may still require customers and workers to wear masks.
In April, the CDC said masks can be avoided for most outdoor activities, but recommended their use in crowded settings.
Dr Walensky said that immunocompromised people may want to consider continuing to wear a mask outdoors. The guidance does not apply to un-vaccinated Americans, and people who experience Covid-19 symptoms should resume using a mask.
Big news from the CDC: If you’re fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask – indoors or outdoors, in most settings.
We’ve gotten this far. Whether you choose to get vaccinated or wear a mask, please protect yourself until we get to the finish line. pic.twitter.com/XI4yPmhWaD
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 13, 2021
The CDC defines “fully vaccinated” as two weeks after receiving a second jab of a two-dose vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The move could alarm some Americans, with less than half of the population fully vaccinated and no way to confirm whether someone has received their shots or not.
President Joe Biden has set a 4 July goal of vaccinating 70% of Americans with at least one jab. Around 250m jabs have been given so far, according to latest estimates.