Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, championed the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to relax mask mandates for fully vaccinated Americans, saying the situation in the U.S. had changed amid a vaccination blitz and plummeting numbers of COVID-19 infections.
“The data that’s accumulated now is that clearly the infections are going down,” Fauci told CNN host Jake Tapper on Thursday. “They’re averaging about 36,000 a day right now, which has gone down about a third. As you mentioned, 58% of people have at least one dose ― shot of a vaccine ― and greater than 40% are fully vaccinated, so the situation has changed.”
The CDC on Thursday eased mask-wearing requirements for the fully vaccinated, saying many Americans could “resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.” The updated rules mean people can forgo face coverings and social distancing even indoors.
More than 154 million people have been given at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and nearly 119 million are fully vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration also approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 this week, a significant step that will help schools reach a new stage of normality in the fall.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, said during a White House briefing on Thursday. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Fauci added that students should soon be back in class full time. His comments echoed those of Randi Weingarten, the president of the powerful American Federation of Teachers union.
“I believe the schools should be open five days, full blast, just the way it was before,” Fauci said.
Tapper pressed the doctor on mask guidance on planes, but he said the CDC would still require passengers to wear face coverings while traveling. He did, however, say the Biden administration would not mandate any type of vaccine passport at the federal level, although individual businesses could make such rules themselves.
“We want virtually everybody to get vaccinated. What we’re doing now with the relaxation of the restrictions on people who are vaccinated is trying to get back to a degree of normality, which people who get vaccinated deserve to have that,” Fauci said. “That’s been one of the things that’s been the concern, saying, if I get vaccinated, what difference is it going to make? My life hasn’t really changed that much. Well, now your life is going to change that much.”
In a precursor to the CDC’s move, Fauci said Sunday that he thought the country could “start being more liberal” with mask mandates as more Americans got vaccinated. He added that people could choose to wear masks off and on for the foreseeable future as other illnesses, like the flu or seasonal colds, spread through the community.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.