This Is When Doctors Say They'll Stop Wearing Face Masks in Public

A recent survey asked epidemiologists when they will feel comfortable without one.

Even in states that are reopening, masks or face coverings are either suggested or required when out in public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that covering your face and mouth helps disrupt the spread of potentially infected respiratory droplets, which is especially important when social distancing isn't possible. With that in mind and the fact that any viable COVID-19 vaccine is months or even years away, is there a scenario in which the mask recommendation is lifted anytime soon? Whether or not it is, experts in infectious diseases will be making their own decisions based on their experience. The New York Times asked 511 epidemiologists when they themselves expected that they would stop taking certain precautions against coronavirus, including wearing face masks, and their answers reveal that life won't be returning to "normal" for quite a long time.

Of the epidemiologists surveyed, 52 percent say that they expect to stop "routinely wearing a face covering" in a year or more. Forty percent say that they'll continue wearing masks for anywhere between three months and a year, while only seven percent say they'll stop sometime this summer. The remaining one percent expect that they'll never give up wearing masks in public.

Asian woman wearing mask and gloves in grocery store

Of course, the respondents' answers refer to non-medical/research settings—personal protective equipment (PPE) is de facto in their work. And The Times piece also includes a disclaimer, which reads, "Their answers are not guidelines for the public, and incorporate respondents' individual life circumstances, risk tolerance and expectations about when there will be widespread testing, contact tracing, treatment, and vaccination for COVID-19." Simply put, these are personal answers and take into account the persistent uncertainty about what the future holds for the pandemic.

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Still, some doctors are making predictions about what will be expected of the public going forward. Speaking to The Atlantic, Trish Greenhalgh, professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, said that people should continue to wear masks until the point when there are "there are no new cases, or very few cases" of the coronavirus.

Others believe that we'll be wearing masks until the widespread distribution of a vaccination. "I think that you're going to need to wear masks for as long as COVID is a threat, and COVID is going to be a threat until you have a vaccine," Shan Soe-Lin, immunologist and lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, told The Today Show.

What The Times survey highlights is that the decision to wear a mask or not may become even more personal than it is already if businesses and other public areas stop requiring it. And for more on covering your face, here's The Face Mask Rumor You Need to Stop Believing.

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