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We might need to keep wearing masks into 2022 to defeat COVID-19

Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Despite a sharp decline in coronavirus cases and continued success with COVID-19 vaccines, it's looking likely we will still be wearing masks for some time to come.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's coronavirus czar, said it's possible masks could be needed until 2022.

"I want it to keep going down to a baseline that's so low there is virtually no threat," Fauci said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "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."

Fauci's comments underscore what experts have been saying for weeks: that even as more people get vaccinated, masks are still going to be essential.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautioned against viewing the downward case trends as a reason to let up on masking and other safety precautions.

In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Walensky said she hoped for the best, but also warned of a worst-case scenario — that people will stop wearing masks and physically distancing too early and that many will prematurely declare they've had enough of the pandemic and won't get vaccinated.

 

"What worries me a little bit is when you hit September, and then it gets colder again, and there may be a variant that emerges," and people stop wearing masks and physically distancing, Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Times last week.

Basic steps like wearing masks in public and keeping a physical distance from those outside your household will still provide an additional layer of safety, experts say, and help further drive down coronavirus transmission — eventually allowing more parts of the economy to reopen.

The CDC says that continued adherence to public health measures like wearing face coverings, observing physical distancing, regular handwashing and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated areas is still recommended even for someone who has received both required vaccine doses.

"It's important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions," CDC guidance states, particularly because it's not yet definitively known "whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people, even if you don't get sick yourself."

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