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Sean Rayford/Getty Beachgoers in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
In a sign of how much the COVID-19 pandemic has changed over the past year, the director of the Centers for Disease Control told vaccinated Americans to have a "safe, happy" Memorial Day weekend on Tuesday, a shift from 2020 when health officials urged people to stay home with the virus quickly spreading.
However, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned unvaccinated Americans that they are still at risk and should use the long weekend to get their shots.
"If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day," Walensky said in a press conference. "If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you, you remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions."
Those who are vaccinated should feel safe enjoying the holiday weekend, Walensky said.
"This past weekend, I got to [spend] time outside with my family, and I was encouraged to see so many others outside and to see so many of their smiles," she said. "All of this is possible because vaccinations are going up and cases and risk of community transmission across the country are going down."
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A year earlier, COVID-19 was not well understood, and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn warned Americans that the virus was "not yet contained" and to take precautions over Memorial Day weekend.
"With the country starting to open up this holiday weekend, I again remind everyone that the coronavirus is not yet contained," he said. "It is up to every individual to protect themselves and their community. Social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks protect us all."
This year, with three highly effective vaccines in use and more than 50% of American adults now vaccinated against the virus, cases have steeply declined to around 24,000 a day on average.
"We are on a good downward path, but we are not quite out of the woods yet," Walensky said Tuesday, as she encouraged unvaccinated people to get inoculated.