Don’t put away your face masks. We may need them even as COVID-19 fades

  • 2021-04-23
  • 2031

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, a return to normalcy seems tantalizingly close. But even as restaurants reopen and shopping malls fill up, a glaring reminder of the virus’ presence remains: face masks.

Mask mandates remain in place in most regions across the globe, but the list of places where mask orders have been lifted is growing. Israel dropped its outdoor mask mandate this week, noting that more than half its population has been fully vaccinated. In the U.S., a growing number of states have lifted restrictions, including New Hampshire, which dropped its mandate last week even as coronavirus variants circulate.

Health experts think an end to all face mask requirements would be premature.

“Will we be masking in 2025? I doubt it. But it’s still too early to say when we will ditch them, and I think they’ll be one of the last things to go” said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine associate professor of public health. “They’re cheap, they’re relatively easy to use and they work.”

So far, more than 32% of the state has been fully vaccinated and roughly 44.5% of Californians have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to state and federal data. While that number continues to grow, a large chunk of the population still has not received any shots.

Still, if vaccinations continue to rise, hospitalizations and transmission rates continue to stay low and vaccines prove they can fight against the growing number of variants, it’s possible change could come to California sooner.

Restrictions could be dropped in certain areas, such as outdoors, while kept in place elsewhere, such as the grocery store. State and federal officials have already said those who are fully vaccinated can take off their face masks in private settings.

But as the state prepares to fully reopen, with some caveats, on June 15, there’s been no indication the mask mandate will be lifted.

“The fact that we’re vaccinating like crazy, plus the fact that our numbers are low now is good,” Noymer said. But “nobody really knows if there’s going to be a variant in the fall or if we’re going to have to have boosters.

“There are so many wild cards in this pandemic.”

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