President Joe Biden on Thursday celebrated the federal government’s new guidance on mask-wearing as "a great milestone."
"I think it’s a great milestone, a great day," Biden said during remarks after walking out into the White House Rose Garden not wearing a mask. "It’s been made possible by the extraordinary success we’ve had in vaccinating so many Americans so quickly."
Biden spoke shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance saying fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear a mask indoors or outdoors.
"If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you have earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile. With a smile. So, it is a good day for the country."
Americans who have already been vaccinated "stepped up" and "did what I consider to be your patriotic duty," Biden said. "The simple truth is this: the American people have never, ever, ever, ever let their country down.”
The president recognized all of the first responders who have been on the front lines in the pandemic for over a year now. He thanked doctors, nurses, the U.S. military, researchers and drug companies, but he also expressed appreciation directly to the American people.
"For more than a year, you have endured so much and so many lost jobs, so many businesses lost, so many lives upended and so many months that our kids couldn't be in school. You couldn’t see your friends or family. All the moments that mattered so much from birthdays to weddings to graduations, all postponed. And most tragically of all, the lost lives," he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris stood beside him, also without a face covering.
The CDC announcement came as they were meeting with Republican senators in the Oval Office, and according to one senator in the meeting, the president and senators took off their masks midway through the meeting.
The agency had faced questions in recent days about whether it was moving too slowly to issue guidance permitting fully-vaccinated people to forgo masks in more instances, especially as more evidence showed how effective COVID-19 vaccines were at protecting people from becoming infected or seriously ill.
The CDC had previously said it was OK for fully vaccinated people to allow face coverings outdoors, unless they were in large gatherings.
The White House has repeatedly said it would follow the advice of government scientists.
Biden reiterated CDC guidance Thursday that said unvaccinated people should still wear a face covering in many situations.
He also asked Americans to be respectful of others if they see someone still wearing a mask because they want to feel more protected.
"You know, some may say, I just feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask. They may feel that way. So if you’re someone with a mask, you see them, please treat them with kindness and respect. We've had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much politicization of this issue about wearing masks. Let's put it to rest."