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Americans may still need to wear face masks through 2022 to protect against the spread of the coronavirus and emerging variants, Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday.
As cases decline and vaccines roll out across the country, the U.S. will likely reach a “significant degree of normality” by the end of the year, he said, though masks could remain an important part of everyday life for some time.
“You know, I think it is possible that that’s the case” that people will be wearing masks in 2022, Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union”State of the Union.”
Fauci, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he can’t predict when the U.S. will return to pre-pandemic life but that it’s coming.
“As we get into the fall and the winter, by the end of the year, I agree with the president completely that we will be approaching a degree of normality,” he said. “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.”
Biden has urged Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration to reduce the spread of the virus. He’s also signed executive orders that require interstate travelers and people on federal property to wear a mask.
As new daily COVID-19 case numbers continue to decline, public health officials are watching the spread of coronavirus variants, such as the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa and the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil. The U.S. has reported more than 1,660 B.1.1.7 cases across 44 states, according to the latest CDC tally updated on Sunday, as well as 22 B.1.351 cases in 10 states and 5 P.1 cases in 4 states.
“The better we do at getting vaccine into people’s arms as quickly and as expeditiously as possible, that will be another important tool against preventing” the spread of the coronavirus, Fauci said Sunday.
“You will be seeing relaxation of some of the stringencies as more and more people get vaccinated, I promise you that,” he added.
The U.S. has distributed 75 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the latest CDC update on Sunday. More than 43.6 million people have received their first dose in the two-shot regimen, and more than 18.8 million people have received a second dose.
As more people get vaccinated and virus levels in local communities decline, then people may not have to wear masks, Fauci said.
“I want to see it go way down,” he said. “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.”
CNN, “State of the Union transcript, Feb. 21, 2021.”
CNN, “Fauci: ‘Possible’ Americans will be wearing masks in 2022 to protect against Covid-19.”
CDC, “US COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants.”
CDC, “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”