Time to ditch that mask at work? Not quite.

On May 13, 2021, the CDC released new recommendations for fully vaccinated people, but does that mean you no longer need to require your employees wear masks at work?

Not so fast.

According to the CDC data tracker, about 59% American adults have received at least one shot, while 46% are considered fully vaccinated.  The new guidelines announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represent a major step toward a return to pre-pandemic times. “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

The CDC’s new recommendations say that fully vaccinated people in a non-healthcare setting can:

  • Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  • Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible

Does that mean we can throw away our masks?  Not quite. Let’s break this down:

Non-Health Care Settings Only

The new CDC recommendations apply to non-healthcare settings only.   The recommendations for healthcare settings have not been updated since April, 2021.   The healthcare setting guidance applies to all healthcare personnel (HCP) while at work and all patients and residents while they are being cared for in a healthcare setting.

Fully Vaccinated People

The recommendation applies only to fully vaccinated people. That does not mean once someone has had their second shot (or their only shot with Johnson & Johnson) they are fully vaccinated. People are not considered fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) or their single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine).

Federal, state, and local rules and regulations

The CDC’s guidelines are suggestions for behavior but they are not law. Ground-level decisions on when and where masks must be worn will now rest with states, local governments and businesses, which will have to decide whether to maintain or relax their masking mandates.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo was quick to announce that his state’s mask mandate will remain in effect as state health officials review new federal guidance to allow vaccinated people to remove face coverings under most conditions.

In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker has stated the state will follow the CDC guidance.  “The Governor believes firmly in following the science and intends to revise his executive orders in line with the upcoming CDC guidelines lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people.” said Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.

In Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot announced on Facebook that starting May 14, 2021 business can exempt fully vaccinated individuals from capacity limits across all industries and further said that restaurants & bars can seat parties of 10 or more people if all are fully vaccinated.

The announcement from the city of Chicago was a little more conservative, stating they will broadly follow the new guidance, though there may be some additional categories in which mask-wearing for vaccinated people will be expected to continue. “We will work with the state and our industry and business partners to review and update guidance for specific settings, and expect to broadly follow this new CDC guidance across most settings,” the statement said in part. “This does not, however, mean that masks are going away,” the city added. “We also agree with the CDC that masks should be worn during travel, including use of public transit, and that the unvaccinated should continue to wear masks in most settings.”

In Wisconsin, while the Supreme Court eliminated the statewide mask mandate in April, a number of counties and cities have their own mask mandates which still need to be followed even in light of the new CDC guidelines.  Kenosha recently announced it is keeping it’s mask mandate in place until May 27, when the mandate is currently set to expire.

Business and workplace guidance

No state or local mask mandate? The CDC is leaving it up to businesses to decide what to do. The CDC guidelines specifically state that fully vaccinated people should follow guidance at their workplace and local businesses. That means if your local grocery store says you need to wear a mask to enter – you still need to wear that mask!

The new guidelines also present complications for business owners, especially since there is no way to immediately know if someone who is not wearing a mask is, in fact, actually vaccinated.

What Else?

The new CDC guidelines also states that fully vaccinated people should:

  • Wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
  • Fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in the United States are still required to get tested within 3 days of their flight (or show documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months) and should still get tested 3-5 days after their trip.
  • Watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, and if they do have symptoms, get tested and stay home and away from others.
  • People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system, should talk to their healthcare provider to discuss their activities. They may need to keep taking all precautions to prevent COVID-19.


Should you have any questions about mask mandates or other employee policies for your business or you would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Navigant Law Group, LLC at (847) 253-8800 or email us at info@navigantlaw.com.

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