To help stem the dramatic spread of coronavirus throughout the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has officially recommended that people wear cloth face masks in public, especially when proper social distancing (i.e. keeping six feet between you and the next person) isn’t possible. The recommendation holds true for individuals over the age of two, while infants, who are at greater risk of suffocation from mask-wearing, should go mask-free. Wearing a mask properly lowers your risk of both contracting and transmitting COVID-19, so it’s important for adults and older children to follow that recommendation. But how long will this new normal last? The CDC hasn’t addressed exactly how long we’ll be wearing masks over our noses and mouths as we go about our essential business and errands, so we asked experts for their predictions.
While it’s nice to imagine that life will return to normal in the near future, experts estimate that it’s going to be quite some time before we can safely head out the door without donning protective face coverings again.
Pediatrician Cara Natterson, MD, founder of Worry Proof Consulting and author of Decoding Boys, says that the the easing of the recommendation will depend on “a variety of factors,” including “how well people physically distance once stay-at-home mandates are lifted; the availability and accuracy of virus and antibody testing; and the eventual availability of a vaccine.”
Antibody testing detects whether or not your body has already encountered an illness and has produced antibodies to fight it off, which will certainly be helpful information in the battle against COVID-19. However, it’s too early to tell whether or not antibodies can prevent someone who has had this particular disease from getting it again, so there’s much more research to be done there.
“We should all get used to masks for now because we don’t have a great system in place to figure out who is currently infected and who is immune,” Natterson explains.
Additionally, it will probably be some time before vaccines that confer potential immunity are available to the general population. In March, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Anthony Fauci, MD, warned that a coronavirus vaccine was at least a year to 18 months from wide distribution—an estimate other experts told CNN that they felt was “optimistic.” But scientists all over the world are working urgently on this problem. On Apr. 27, The New York Times reported that scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute say that their first few million vaccines are likely to be available by September, because of testing they’d already done on an inoculation that fights a different strain of coronavirus. If the vaccine is viable, it will first be used on an emergency scale, but their progress provides hope for mass distribution to follow.