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Fauci: Risk of catching COVID-19 outdoors is 'extremely low,' expect new mask guidance soon

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon issue new guidance on wearing masks outdoors, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also said the risk of contracting COVID-19 while outdoors is "extremely low."

Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, told CNN's Jim Acosta on Sunday to expect new recommendations soon, noting that all along, health experts have been saying the risk of contracting the virus outdoors is minimal.

"The risk when you're outdoors – which we have been saying all along – is extremely low. And if you are vaccinated, it's even lower. So you're going to be hearing about those kinds of recommendations soon," he said.

Fauci's comments echo what he told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos earlier that day, when he said "it's pretty common sense" that the risk of catching COVID-19 outdoors is low.

"I think it's pretty common sense now that outdoor risk is really, really quite low, particularly — I mean, if you are a vaccinated person, wearing a mask outdoors, I mean, obviously, the risk is minuscule," Fauci said.

He went on to say that new guidance from the CDC is forthcoming.

"What I believe you're going to be hearing, what the country is going to be hearing soon is updated guidelines from the CDC. The CDC is a science-based organization. They don't want to make any guidelines unless they look at the data, and the data backs it up," he said.

"But when you look around at the commonsense situation, obviously, the risk is really very low, particularly if you are vaccinated," he added.

The CDC's current guidance advises Americans, even those who have been fully vaccinated, to continue wearing masks and social distancing six feet apart from other people to mitigate spread of the virus. The CDC also says that "masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household," but advises Americans to obey local mask mandates in places that have them.

Fauci's latest comments on the risk of contracting COVID-19 outdoors appear to be another flip-flop.

At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Dr. Fauci said, "There's no reason to be walking around with a mask," adding that while mask-wearing may "make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet ... it's not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is." But as time went on and medical researchers learned more about the virus, Fauci changed his position and became a strong proponent of wearing masks at all times, even outdoors.

During a Facebook live chat with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) last August, Fauci advised people to "get as much outdoors as you possibly can," noting that "superspreader" events almost always happen indoors in places like "nursing homes, meat-packing, prisons, choirs in churches, congregations of weddings and other social events where people get together."

"Nothing's 100%, but it's almost invariable that it's indoors. So when you are indoors, make sure you have a mask. When you're outdoors, keep the mask on," Fauci said.

On Oct. 7, Fauci reiterated that being outside is "much less of a risk, but it is a risk." He advised people who want to gather outdoors at places like the beach to gather with people they know have tested negative for the virus and to socially distance and wear masks when appropriate.

"If you separate into almost like pods of people that you know are being careful — maybe people who have been tested, you know they're negative, you know they're not being reckless — and stay with them, but not all over them," Fauci said. "You could be separated by a fair amount. Obviously, you're not want to be wearing a mask when you jump in the water. Swim around, have fun. But when you come out, when you're congregating, put a mask on."

President Joe Biden will give an address on the state of the pandemic Tuesday. During his remarks, the president will reportedly announce the new CDC guidance, though exactly what the new guidelines will be remains unclear.

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