Benjamin Chan

State Epidemiologist Benjamin Chan, MD, speaks at a COVID-19 briefing in December.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places — a move New Hampshire health officials questioned.

The CDC also said fully vaccinated people will not need to physically distance in most places.

“Big news from the CDC: If you’re fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask — indoors or outdoors, in most settings,” the White House tweeted with a picture that said: “Fully Vaccinated People CAN STOP Wearing Masks.”

New Hampshire State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan appeared startled by the decision on Thursday afternoon.

Unlike other CDC announcements, Chan said the first he heard about this one was from media reports.

“I am a little bit unhappy with how CDC has rolled out its guidance,” Chan said during the state’s weekly briefing on COVID-19 Thursday.

Chan said New Hampshire and all states are relaxing restrictions as more become fully vaccinated, but all these steps need to be carefully calibrated.

“This is how we are going with the pandemic as we loosen things. The difficult choices have always been on what the correct timing is,” Chan said.

He noted New Hampshire and virtually all states in the country still have “significant community transmission” of COVID-19.

“I have concerns about pulling back on some of the recommendations at this time because of the issues that have been highlighted,” Chan said.

New Hampshire will not formally respond to the recommendation until state public health officials examine it further, Chan said.

“This is a big change,” Chan said. “We never simply adopt it because CDC put it out.

“We need to understand better the rationale behind this.”

‘We followed the science’

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky defended the easing of guidance just two weeks after the agency’s most recent update, citing a sharp reduction in cases, expansion of vaccines to younger people and vaccine efficacy against coronavirus variants.

“We followed the science here,” Walensky said, adding, “a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week.”

The CDC had faced criticism that it has been too cautious in its guidance. Critics have said people need to see more benefit of getting vaccinated in terms of returning to normal activities.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen additional data to show these vaccines work in the real world, they stand up to the variants, and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus,” the agency said in a news release.

It added, “We needed to take the time to review the full body of evidence to get this right, and that’s how we came to this decision.”

The agency still recommends vaccinated people wear masks on planes and trains, and at airports, transit hubs, mass transit and in places like hospitals and doctor’s offices.

The government last month extended mask requirements across transportation networks through Sept. 13. Walensky said the CDC plans to soon issue updated guidance for transit.

The CDC said fully vaccinated people should still wear masks where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws and regulations, including from local businesses and workplaces.

Walensky said on Thursday immune-compromised individuals should consult doctors before shedding masks and emphasized people who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear them. She added vaccinated people who have COVID-19 symptoms should put masks back on.

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