Here's How Long You'll Have to Wear a Face Mask, Experts Say

If you were hoping to ditch your mask before the holidays, this doctor has some bad news for you.

As coronavirus cases spike across the U.S., it's become abundantly clear that wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing can make or break any efforts to control the outbreak of the virus. But when will the risk be low enough to go back to normal life? Well, according to experts, we'll likely still have to wear face masks for a long time to come. In fact, one Johns Hopkins doctor predicts we could be wearing face masks for several years—yes, even if we have a vaccine.

While many Americans may have been holding out hope for a quick return to pre-pandemic living, recent coronavirus surges have shown that the mask recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might be around in some capacity even after a vaccine is developed. "I think that mask-wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with—hopefully living with happily—for several years," Eric Toner, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a world leader in pandemic preparedness, told CNET.

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Toner's estimate aligns with the results of a June survey The New York Times did with 511 epidemiologists. They asked the doctors when they expected to stop wearing face masks in public and the majority said that they expect to stop "routinely wearing a face covering" in a year or more.

Toner also says that following mask-wearing guidelines today is one of the only ways we can be sure we won't be donning face coverings for even longer. "If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you're interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down," he said.

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Toner also stressed that while a widely distributed vaccine would ultimately help control the virus, he isn't confident that significant numbers of immunization will take place before 2022—and even then, many experts believe patients will require more than one dose, which is why mask-wearing is likely here to stay for several years.

In April, Jacob DeLaRosa, MD, chief of cardiac surgery of Portneuf Medical Center, told Best Life that we'll be wearing masks "for the foreseeable future"—or until we achieve herd immunity, which occurs when the majority of a population has become immune to a virus through vaccination or contracting and recovering from said illness.

Unfortunately, herd immunity seems like it's moving further away recently. "Immunity to this thing looks rather fragile—it looks like some people might have antibodies for a few months and then it might wane, so it's not looking like a safe bet," Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told CNBC's Squawk Box Europe on July 6. "It's a very deceitful virus and immunity to it is very confusing and rather short lived." And for more on how to get the most out of your PPE, check out This Is the Worst Thing You Could Use to Wash Your Face Mask.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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