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Here’s when doctors think we’ll finally be able to stop wearing face masks

Published Mar 3rd, 2021 5:45PM EST
Coronavirus update
Image: Syda Productions/Adobe

The latest coronavirus update from the team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University that’s been tracking the COVID-19 pandemic shows that, through Wednesday, more than 28.7 million coronavirus cases have been reported in the US. That number also does not include the more than 517,000 deaths in the US that have been attributed to the virus.

The pace of new infections has been on the decline in recent days, but not fast enough in the opinion of some experts like White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. In a new interview with Reuters, for example, Dr. Fauci warned that “I still would want to wear a mask if there was a (COVID) variant out there. All you need is one little flick of a variant (triggering) another surge, and there goes your prediction” about when life might finally get back to normal.

Notwithstanding the announcement this week that two states, Texas and Mississippi, have decided to go ahead and lift coronavirus restrictions that had been in place to combat the pandemic, there’s still a massive effort to get people vaccinated — and to continue adhering to public health measures like wearing face masks and social distancing until enough people have gotten the COVID vaccine.

But it does beg the question, how much longer will this go on?

Part of the wildcard that makes answering that question not as straightforward as we would like has to do with the myriad coronavirus strains now in circulation. While they’re more transmissible, preliminary research shows that, at least for now, the current vaccines are effective to at least some degree, though that could always change as the coronavirus continues to mutate. “If we could get everybody vaccinated quickly things would return to normal pretty quickly,” Paul Drain, an infectious disease physician and associate professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a recent interview. “It’s really just a matter of how quickly we can get the vaccine out to people and get the vaccine out to enough people. If we don’t reach 70%, then it’s going to take a really long time.”

Sorry, in other words, for those of you hoping someone can promise an exact time for when we can stop wearing face masks in public. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas, said in a recent interview that whenever that does happen will depend on us finally reaching so-called herd immunity — the point in this pandemic when the virus essentially burns itself out, because it’s run out of suitable hosts to infect, either because of people who’ve already been infected and developed natural immunity of who’ve developed immunity thanks to a vaccine.

Bottom line: Hang in there. Get your vaccine as soon as you can if you haven’t already. And continue to practice the existing safety measures, including wearing face masks in public, so that we don’t undo the hard-won progress we’ve earned over the past 12 months.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.