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Vaccinated Diners Can Go Maskless When Seated Outside, Says CDC

Unvaccinated people should still wear masks, as should everyone if eating indoors

An outdoor dining set up on the street, featuring multiple tables of people surrounded by potted plants Shutterstock
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

The Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance on socializing and safely engaging in other activities during the pandemic, including new information on best practices at restaurants. Now, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC has deemed it safe for you to “dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households” without wearing a mask.

“Scientifically the vaccines are good enough that it’s highly unlikely that someone who’s vaccinated is going to be exposed to enough virus outdoors to have a breakthrough infection,” Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times.

Recent best practices recommended that even those fully vaccinated wear masks at outdoor tables, and “pull the mask(s) back over your mouth and nose in between bites.” Which anecdotally, most people seem to be ignoring. Many restaurants have instead advised that you can be unmasked at your table, but you should put on a mask when moving through the restaurant. But if you were already vaccinated and doing outdoor dining, this guidance just solidifies what was common behavior anyway.

If you’re not vaccinated yet, the CDC says outdoor dining is a “less safe” activity, and recommends staying masked. Masks are still suggested for indoor dining, though for vaccinated people it’s considered a “safest” activity, while if you’re unvaccinated it’s “least safe.” However, they have also deemed it safe for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, to “walk, run, or bike outdoors with members of your household” without a mask.

While the idea of no longer putting on lipstick only for it to be horribly smudged by the time you get to the restaurant may be welcome news, going maskless comes with risks. First off, what constitutes “outdoor” dining varies wildly, so you’ll have to account for whether you’ll be eating in an open backyard, or a sidewalk enclosures with 3 12 walls. Secondly, it’s unclear if the CDC is accounting for potential risk to restaurant employees, who face higher risk of infection if unvaccinated.

And lastly, this new advice still applies only to a portion of the U.S. population. While the country has kept up a high pace of vaccinations and made them available to everyone over the age of 16, vaccine rates have slowed recently, and only 29 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated. People are still advised to wear masks in most situations, as well as stay six feet apart from others when possible.

The CDC also clarifies that it “cannot provide the specific risk level for every activity in every community. It is important to consider your own personal situation and the risk to you, your family, and your community before venturing out.”