Should You Still Wear a Mask if You’re Fully Vaccinated?

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, system director of Infection Prevention for Henry Ford Health System, answers this and some of our other questions about the new recommendations
fully vaccinated - mask
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Earlier today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the easing of capacity limitations for indoor and outdoor events in the state of Michigan. The new regulations, which go into effect on June 1, allow indoor venues to operate at 50 percent capacity and remove capacity restrictions entirely for outdoor events.

The news follows last week’s CDC announcement of updated recommendations for fully vaccinated Americans, which indicated they no longer need to wear face masks in most settings. Michigan soon followed suit, lifting its mask mandate for fully vaccinated people on May 15. Those who are not vaccinated may go mask-less outdoors, but they must wear a mask when indoors.

The new guidelines have created concern and confusion for some Michiganders who have grown accustomed to the practices of masking and distancing, especially while indoors or in crowded spaces. Dr. Dennis Cunningham, system director of Infection Prevention for Henry Ford Health System, talked with Hour Detroit to bring additional insight to the updated guidelines.

Hour Detroit: When the CDC says, “fully vaccinated,” what exactly does that mean? 

Dr. Dennis Cunningham: Fully vaccinated means you have the vaccine, and there’s been enough time for your body to mount an effective immune response. For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it would be two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine; for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, it would be two weeks after the single dose.

Are you concerned about the easing of capacity restrictions?

Looking at the website, we are at 57 percent vaccinated. The magic number seems to be 70 percent for control of the virus. I think it is premature to lift [capacity] restrictions.

What are your thoughts about lifting the mask mandate? 

I’m a little bit concerned. I worry that people could just say “I’m vaccinated” when they really aren’t, and then some businesses have just chosen to stop having people wear masks at all. So, I think that does increase the risk for another surge, but I’ll hope there’s enough outdoor activity that people aren’t congregating together.

Do you think it’s safe for unvaccinated individuals to go mask-less outdoors?

I think if you’re not in a large crowd it’s pretty safe. There’s lots of breeze and the air is moving around. If I was going to be at an outdoor concert where we’re packed in, I would say they should wear a mask if they’re not vaccinated. But if you’re walking around outside, probably not.

Are there any situations in which fully vaccinated individuals should continue masking?

If people have serious underlying medical problems, such as active cancer, or if they’re taking medications to treat autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease or lupus…it would be really important that they still wear masks to protect themselves. If you’re in a healthcare setting, the guidelines are that you still wear a mask whether or not you’re vaccinated — that’s a whole separate recommendation. Personally, I’m still wearing a mask when I’m out in large crowds; I was at the grocery store Saturday, and it was pretty crowded, so I chose to wear a mask then. But if I’m outside, since I’m fully vaccinated, I feel pretty comfortable not wearing a mask around my neighbors or other people.

Should children who are too young to receive the vaccine wear masks?

The way the guidance is currently written, if you’re not vaccinated you should have a mask on. But we know that young kids under 2 can’t wear a mask — they’re more likely to choke on it. Kids between 2 and 5, I think that’s a struggle to get them to wear a mask. If there’s a fabric with their favorite superhero or cartoon on it, that’s a great way to help encourage them. But if people are getting together for large parties, graduations, things like that, it’s probably better to limit the number of children [in attendance] or if you’re going to have a bunch of them, keep them outside. Otherwise, you need them all to wear masks.

Are you concerned about the potential rise of new variants?

There are going to be new variants, I have no doubt about that. Fortunately, for the variants we’re seeing in Michigan and in most of the United States, the vaccines still work against them. They may not give full protection, meaning you still might get sick, but it’s more likely to be a very mild illness. The game-changer would be if there was a new variant that was dramatically different — that would make life interesting.

For more information on Michigan’s response to COVID-19, visit