As we near the one-year anniversary of when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, many are eagerly looking for an end. But while a nationwide vaccine rollout may have some predicting a quick return to normal life, the nation's top infectious disease expert has warned that certain safety precautions may be with us for the long haul. In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that we may need to wear face masks in 2022.
"I think it is possible that that's the case," Fauci said when asked by CNN's Dana Bash if Americans will still need to wear face masks in 2022.
Fauci said the timeline for when Americans might be able to throw away their face masks for good was heavily dependent on the rate of infection. "If you see the level [of community spread] coming down really, really very low, I want it to keep going down to a baseline that's so low that there's virtually no threat, or not no — it will never be zero — but a minimal, minimal threat that you will be exposed to someone who is infected," Fauci told Bash. "So if you combine getting most of the people in the country vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very, very low, then I believe you're going to be able to say, 'you know, for the most part, we don't necessarily have to wear masks.'"
So just how low do rates of infection need to fall before Fauci feels comfortable dissolving current recommendations for face masks?
"I want to see it go way down," Fauci said, noting that while 20,000 new cases per day would be "a heck of a lot better" than the daily rate of infection the United States has been reporting, that number still represented "a very high level of virus within the community."
"When it goes way down and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated then I would feel comfortable saying, 'you know we need to pull back on the masks, we don't need to have masks,'" Fauci said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 43.6 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, which boasts a population estimated to be around 330 million.
But while Americans may have to wear face masks while socializing or running errands in public for another two years, Fauci has said families can expect to see some degree of normalcy return to their lives toward the end of this year.
"It really depends on what you mean by normality. If normality means exactly the way things were before we had this happen to us, I mean, I can't predict that," Fauci told Bash. "Obviously I think we're going to have a significant degree of normality beyond the terrible burden that all of us have been through over the last year as we get into the fall and the winter by the end of the year. I agree with the president completely, that we will be approaching a degree of normality. It may or may not be precisely the way it was in November of 2019 but it will be much, much better than what we're doing right now."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.