A half year into the pandemic, wearing face masks has almost become second nature.
If you leave the house, you check that you have your keys, your phone, and your face mask.
The emphasis on face masks has led many to question how long we’ll continue to wear facial coverings.
While we wait for a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans would most likely need to wear face masks after a vaccine becomes available. The expert also explained how Americans will need to still practice social distancing, according to the Associated Press.
At a Senate hearing, Fauci told senators that a vaccine wouldn’t change conditions overnight.
“The vaccine availability will go a giant step to controlling the infection, but you’re not going to completely eradicate it or eliminate it,” Fauci added.
Turns out, many researchers believe that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon even as companies race to find an effective vaccine.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Yahoo Life that he believes “masks may simply become part of life” in the U.S. as they have in other parts of the world during cold and flu season.
Last week, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies that he believes face masks may offer more protection than a vaccine.
“We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” he said. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
This echoed Fauci’s previous sentiments that a vaccine alone isn’t going to put us in the clear. The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Business Insider that he believes a “combination of an effective vaccine and adherence to certain public health principles will get us to the point where we want to be, by the end of 2021.”
He emphasized that the public needs to do their part in order to curb the spread of COVID.
“I never said just the vaccine,” he explained. “You never should abandon the public health measures. And the intensity of the public health measures would depend on the level of infection in the community.”
With a vaccine and mask-wearing in place, Fauci believes we may eventually get to a point where it’s safe to “congregate with people with or without a mask.”
The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published research backing the effectiveness of face masks by citing that regions in the world where a majority of people wear face masks exhibited milder COVID epidemics.
“These results suggest that early public interest with face mask may be an independently important factor in controlling the COVID-19 epidemic on a population scale,” the researchers wrote.
Does this mean that face masks may be the norm post-COVID? Officials seem to think it isn't such a bad idea.
Dr. Schaffner explained that no vaccine is perfect, which leaves certain people susceptible and the “only way they can be protected and the only way we can protect them is to keep wearing masks.”
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agreed that a vaccine wouldn’t provide “sterilizing immunity” and explained “protective measures” like mask-wearing will need to be taken for some period of time, adding, “potentially until a second-generation vaccine is developed.”
Since many people have publicly opposed getting a vaccine, this means the virus will continue to spread leading to longer periods of mask-wearing and social distancing, per Schaffner.
And even if COVID tapers off, data has led researchers to believe face masks could help curtail the spread of respiratory viruses like the flu, common cold, and rhinoviruses since they’re transmitted similarly.