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Americans Confused About Latest CDC Guidance: 'Do I Have to Wear a Mask or Not?'

In this March 5, 2021 file photo a sign requiring face masks is seen at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer,File)

Many Americans are trying to understand the latest CDC guidance that says those who are fully vaccinated can take off their masks when both outside and inside. The revised guidelines are creating confusion and making some leery of shedding their masks.

The confusion comes from the fact that some states and businesses are still requiring masks despite the new guidance.  Also, it's concerning to some that the new rules work on the honor system and that they changed so quickly.

On Monday, President Biden pushed unvaccinated Americans to get their shots, noting that 60% of all Americans have received at least one shot.

"Today for the first time since the pandemic began, cases are down in all 50 states," Biden said. "Now it's time to get your shot."

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The encouragement followed the CDC changing its guidance regarding those fully vaccinated being able to remove their masks in most scenarios. It was an abrupt about-face from previous guidance. CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the rules changed because the science changed.

"I told the American people I'd deliver science as soon as we had it," Walensky said.

But even fully-vaccinated Americans shouldn't ditch their masks yet because where they are maybe slow to change. Despite the new guidance, 22 states still have some kind of state-wide mask mandate in place. 

Businesses are also varying in how they adopt the new guidance.

Walmart, Costco, and Trader Joe's are among those allowing customers to go maskless. Home Depot and Target, however, join several companies keeping mask requirements in place. It's confusing.

"I would imagine that within a period of couple weeks you're going to start to see significant clarification of some of the actually understandable and reasonable questions that people have," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, medical adviser to the President.

While a third of Americans are fully vaccinated, the other two-thirds are not.  And some of them not only refusing to get vaccinated but are also opposed to wearing masks. There's concern the new guidance provides an honor system that emboldens that segment to go maskless wherever they want putting others at risk, especially children and the immune-compromised.

"You're empowered if you are not vaccinated to wear a mask," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "So, it is less about the honor system. You don't have to trust the person who's next to you, that they've been vaccinated.  If you have not been vaccinated and you wear a mask, the guidance is saying that provides protection."

"We were going to get to a place in this pandemic where vaccinated people were going to be able to take off their masks," said Walensky.  "We're lucky to be there with the science that we have."

Still, the nation's largest nurse's union is condemning the mask rollback, saying it puts front-line workers at risk. Health officials insist the change in guidance is not permission for the widespread removal of masks. They say they deliver the guidance based on science, but it's up to local and state leaders to decide if and how to implement it.  

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