Health

We’ll Likely Be Wearing Face Masks Even After a COVID-19 Vaccine Rolls Out, Dr. Fauci Says

Face masks have become a part of life for many of us to prevent the spread of COVID-19—and we’ll have to keep wearing them through much of 2021, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent interview with Business Insider.

In the interview, Dr. Fauci said that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about getting a safe and effective vaccine by the end of this year. And “if everyone gets vaccinated and we continue to implement the public-health measures that I have been talking about incessantly over the last several months,” he said, we may get to the point where the level of virus will be very low, and maybe even “close to absent” by the end of 2021.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll be able to immediately stop social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds—even when the vaccine is available. “I said 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,” Dr. Fauci said. “I never said just the vaccine. You never should abandon the public health measures.”

However, if your community has already gotten the local rate of infection down, you may be able to relax those other public health measures once there’s a vaccine in place. “The intensity of the public-health measures would depend on the level of infection in the community,” Dr. Fauci said. “If there’s almost no infection in the community, together with the vaccine, you might want to be able to say ‘I can safely congregate with people.’ You may want to do it with a mask, or without a mask. It’s all going to depend on the level of infection in the community, and how low you got it down with your vaccine.”

Dr. Fauci’s comments echo those of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D., director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), who said last month that, even with a vaccine, there may never be a “silver bullet” for COVID-19. For governments and public health officials, that means they need to be “testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts,” he said, as well as informing, empowering, and listening to communities. And “for individuals, it’s about keeping physical distance, wearing a mask, cleaning hands regularly, and coughing safely away from others. Do it all.”

That’s because simply having a vaccine is not enough to wipe out the coronavirus, even under the best of circumstances, SELF explained previously. There’s no guarantee that the vaccine will prevent or reduces the severity of every single case of COVID-19. (The Food and Drug Administration said it would consider approving a vaccine that works in just 50% of those who get it.) And once the vaccine is approved, it will take time for everyone who can get the vaccine to actually get it.

That means we all have to continue to do our part to do, well, everything. We need to maintain social distancing, wear face masks (especially in public places where social distancing isn’t easy to keep up), wash our hands frequently, and avoid crowds. And, as Dr. Fauci says, we won’t be able to stop those behaviors the moment a safe and effective vaccine is available. If you haven’t already, it’s time to invest in some reusable masks you find comfortable enough to wear for a while.

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