Dr. Fauci Says This Is When You'll Need a Mask After the Pandemic Is Over
The end of widespread COVID may not be the last time you decide to cover your face.
There are plenty of public health measures put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that many will be happy to see abandoned as numbers continue to drop. But just as with any historic event, there may be some lessons learned from dealing with the spread of coronavirus that could change the way we protect ourselves from diseases in the future. During a May 9 interview with Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press, Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House's chief COVID adviser, explained how that could involve choosing when you'll need to wear a mask even after the pandemic is over. Read on to see when he believes people may cover their faces even once life has gone back to "normal."
Wearing a mask could help protect yourself and others during flu season.
When asked if face masks would fully become a thing of the past or stay in use, Fauci explained that some might see the benefits of breaking out PPE at certain times to help avoid passing along other contagious viruses that spread annually.
"It is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory-borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you'll spread these respiratory borne diseases," Fauci predicted.
Mask use made this past flu season practically non-existent.
Fauci explained that masks are an effective tool in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, but also in keeping more familiar pathogens at bay. "I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks—clearly, if you look at the data—it diminishes respiratory diseases," he said. "We've had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominately against COVID-19."
He also pointed out that the U.S. wasn't the only nation to see a drastic drop in influenza infections thanks to PPE. "The Australians during their winter, same thing. They had almost no flu largely due to the kinds of things including mask-wearing," Fauci added.
Reports from the past year show flu cases dropped by about 99 percent.
It's not just speculation: According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2020 to 2021 flu season is shaping up to be the lowest on record. There have been only 2,000 cases of influenza reported since Sept. 2020, which is a dramatic drop from the average of 206,000 that have been seen in the most recent flu seasons, The New York Times reports.
While some doctors are optimistic that a dormant virus season could make next year's flu vaccine even more effective, others are concerned that diminished public immunity to the flu could mean numbers will shoot back up beyond their normal levels next season. "We do not know when it will come back in the United States, but we know it will come back," Sonja Olsen, an epidemiologist at the CDC, told the NYT.
Fauci still believes life is heading toward being "normal" again.
During an interview later the same day with ABC's This Week, Fauci also expressed optimism that the pandemic's trajectory was still heading in a direction that would make masks more optional. He predicted, "I hope that next Mother's Day, we're going to see a dramatic difference than what we're seeing right now. I believe that we will be about as close to back to normal as we can. And there's some conditions to that."
Fauci said that the "overwhelming proportion of the population" needs to get vaccinated for this to come true ultimately. "When that happens, the virus doesn't really have any place to go. There aren't a lot of vulnerable people around," he noted. "And where there are not a lot of vulnerable people around, you're not going to see a surge. You're not going to see the kinds of numbers we see now."