PROVIDENCE – Life is beginning to resume some sense of normalcy for fully vaccinated Rhode Islanders, who as of now, are able to forgo wearing a face mask in many public settings.

Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated individuals would no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting — except where they are still required to do so by state officials, local officials, workplaces, or businesses. 

Less than a full day later, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and Gov. Dan McKee announced plans to adopt these guidelines on Tuesday, May 18. 

“I am proud that we have made enough progress vaccinating Rhode Islanders that we can safely move forward with aligning with CDC mask wearing and social distancing updates,” McKee said on Friday. “More than anything, I see this shift as a strong call to get vaccinated.”

“It is only safe to unmask if you are fully vaccinated,” he stressed. 

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to RIDOH. 

Those who are not yet fully vaccinated are instructed to continue wearing their masks and to practice safe, social distancing. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals will still need to mask up and keep their distance in a number of public settings, however. 

Masks and social distancing will still be required in healthcare settings, including doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and while using public transit, including planes, buses and trains. Facilities that serve people experiencing homelessness, including residents and employees. 

And both employees and customers alike, regardless of whether or not they are fully vaccinated, will need to mask up in businesses that still require them. 

Those in school settings can also expect to continue wearing their face masks for a while longer. Teachers, school administrators and staff should continue to wear masks while in school, even if they are fully vaccinated, according to RIDOH. 

Though no longer required, vaccinated individuals who want to err on the side of caution can still wear masks when around other people. 

At last week’s press conference, prior to this announcement, the governor and RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott continued to stress the importance of all eligible Rhode Islanders receiving the vaccine. 

“When we as a state vaccinate more people, our case numbers, our hospitalizations and our fatalities drop,” Alexander-Scott said. “And when you as an individual get vaccinated, the chances of you having a negative health outcome from coronavirus also drop.” 

“If you don’t get vaccinated, your chances of having a negative health outcome from coronavirus — those chances increase,” she added. 

Those who are still unvaccinated are left more susceptible to the virus, especially considering the number of variants that are emerging. Those variants are aggressively searching for people who are not yet vaccinated, she said, which is why we’re now seeing a surge among children.

Last week, McKee announced that more than a million doses have been administered in Rhode Island since late last year. In addition to this celebratory milestone, it was also announced that a new age group, those 12 to 15 years old, are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. 

Over the past week, many Rhode Island pediatricians have publicly spoken on the importance of children getting vaccinated, including Dr. Richard Ohnmacht.

“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m tired of wearing a mask,” Ohnmacht said during last week’s press conference. “I’d like to be able to hug a friend when I see them. I have friends whose kids are getting married. I’d like to get back to their weddings, and I’d like to see a Broadway show sometime.”

“The best way to do it is to vaccinate your kids, vaccinate yourself, and hopefully in the future, vaccinate your younger children,” he added. 

While some may be choosing to forgo the vaccine under the assumption that they’ll be protected through herd immunity, Alexander-Scott said this is a dangerous misunderstanding

 “That concept is not applicable to you at the individual level,” Alexander-Scott stressed. “If you are not vaccinated and you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, there is a very good chance you will get sick.”

“The variants we have are showing that they’re more contagious, and they’re also showing that they’re more severe,” she added. 

Currently, Rhode Island is still experiencing about 100 new cases each day, and the people being hit the  hardest are those who are not yet vaccinated.

“We all want to have a great summer, but to make that happen, we all need to get vaccinated,” Alexander-Scott said. 

In addition to opening up appointments for younger Rhode Islanders, it was also announced last week that the state will be waiving its residency requirement at vaccine sites. 

“We know that we’re a tourist destination,” McKee said, commenting on how much beach-side community populations grow during the summer season. “We want to make sure we keep everyone safe — including our visitors.” 

Our neighbors across the border in Connecticut and Massachusetts are welcome to get their vaccines here too, he said. 

Last week’s announcement from the CDC comes only a few weeks after guidelines were eased for outdoor mask wearing.

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