Dr. Fauci Just Said Exactly When We Won't Need Masks Anymore

You may have heard he said you'll need to mask up until 2022, but here's what he actually predicted.

Throughout the pandemic, masks have been regarded as one of the most effective ways to reduce transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first recommended that the public start wearing them in early April and ever since, most of us have grown accustomed to covering our faces. However, many people do find masks to be an irritation, and are waiting for the day when they won't have to cover-up in public. That's why so many clenched their teeth watching CNN's State of the Union when host Dana Bash asked Anthony Fauci, MD, on Feb. 21, "Do you think Americans will still be wearing masks, for example, in 2022?" His response—"I think it is possible that that's the case"—made headlines. But what you may not have heard is that Fauci outlined what exactly needs to happen for us to be able to throw away our masks before then. Read on for his prediction, and for more on the latest news regarding COVID, check out The CDC Says Don't Do This With the Second Dose of Your COVID Vaccine.

Fauci said this is when we'll know we don't need masks anymore.

Woman taking off mask outdoors
dragana991 / iStock

Bash asked Fauci why he thought Americans might have to wear masks into 2022. "You know, because it depends on the level of dynamics of virus that's in the community," Fauci replied. "I want it to keep going down to a baseline that's so low, that there's virtually no threat—or not no, it'll never be zero, but a minimal, minimal threat that you will be exposed to someone who is infected. … When it goes way down, and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable in saying, we need to pull back on the masks, we don't need to have masks." And for more on the masks you should never be wearing, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

He stressed that more vaccinations mean fewer masks.

A female doctor is vaccinating a senior man against Covid-19
FilippoBacci / iStock

Fauci stressed that mass vaccination was going to be the fastest route back to normality, just as it has been with every disease that we've learned to manage by developing vaccines. "If you combine getting most of the people in the country vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very, very low, then I believe you're going to be able to say, for the most part, we don't necessarily have to wear masks," Fauci said. And for another update on the benefits of getting your shot, check out Dr. Fauci Says It's Safe for You to Do This Once You're Vaccinated.

And he said we may not get back to our 2019 lives this year.

Coronavirus epidemic is over. Smiling man removing his medical mask at city park
Prostock-Studio / iStock

Fauci went on to explain that a return to normality also depends on your definition of the word. "If normality means exactly the way things were before we had this happen to us, I mean, I can't predict that," he said, referring to the mask-free life we knew before April 2020. "I mean, obviously, I think we're going to have a significant degree of normality … as we get into the fall and the winter," he said, adding that "by the end of the year, I agree with the president completely that we will be approaching a degree of normality." Fauci was referring to President Joe Biden's prediction at a CNN town hall on Feb. 16 that by Christmas, he believes "there'll be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced [or] having to wear a mask."

Fauci clarified that this doesn't mean we'll see life as we knew it exactly by Dec. 2021. "It may or may not be precisely the way it was in November of 2019, but it'll be much, much better than what we're doing right now," he said. And for more COVID news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The decision on removing mask recommendations will be based on data, not dates.

The disposal of surgical mask in trash
chanida_p2 / iStock

Upon hearing Fauci's prediction about a return to normal, Bash said: "So, your timeline is taking us out a year, maybe two years, maybe even longer." However, Fauci refused to be drawn on giving a specific date when mask mandates will be abolished and instead restated that masks will be no longer needed at a point when all sets of data reach a safe point. "We don't know," he said. "These are just projections that are estimates. … And a lot of things can happen to modify that. And that's the reason why we have got to be careful, because you have variants that you need to deal with. There are so many other things that would make a projection that I give you today… wind up not being the case six months from now."

So we'll be living with masks for a while yet—but with cases falling and the vaccine rolling out, hopefully an end to face coverings is in sight. And for another prediction on this topic, check out COVID Will Be "Mostly Gone" By This Date, Johns Hopkins Doctor Says.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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