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Fauci says wearing masks could become seasonal following the pandemic

Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, listens to President Biden speak in February. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
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Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said Sunday that people may decide to wear face masks during certain seasons after the coronavirus pandemic has ended to help avoid spreading or contracting respiratory illnesses like the flu.

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In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the chief medical adviser to the White House pointed out that the public has grown accustomed to wearing masks and added that quantifiable data shows that its use has helped stem the spread of other viruses.

“We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against covid-19,” Fauci said.

Fauci added that it is “conceivable” that during seasonal periods where respiratory-borne viruses such as the flu are prevalent, people might decide in the next year or two to wear masks to diminish the possibility of either spreading or catching these diseases.

Common viruses such as influenza have virtually disappeared this year, partly because of coronavirus restrictions like face masks. And a sharp decline in flu infections during this year’s season has led to only one registered pediatric death, compared with dozens in past years, official data shows.

Fauci’s remarks come about two weeks after federal health officials said fully vaccinated people can go without masks outdoors when walking, jogging, biking or dining at outdoor restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to recommend masking in crowded outdoor settings and venues such as stadiums and concerts where it was difficult to maintain social distance and where many unvaccinated people could be present.

CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can go without masks outdoors, except in crowded settings

The announcement brought a sense of relief to pandemic-weary Americans after more than a year of shutdown measures and mandatory use of masks. But even before the CDC’s announcement, states such as Kentucky had begun easing mask use outdoors, while governments in Mississippi and Texas lifted the restriction altogether.

The rapid spread of covid-19 in the United States began in early 2020. A lot has changed in our day-to-day lives since then, including the use of face masks. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)

‘Masks required’ signs are coming down after Texas, Mississippi lift coronavirus restrictions

Since the beginning of the pandemic, mask mandates have been a source of political contention, with officials either seeking to require face coverings to help stem the spread of the virus or arguing that they violate personal freedom.

Some have even questioned the science behind it, alluding to misinformation as mask-wearing has proven to be effective in reducing the risk of infection.

Political standoffs sowed confusion about when and where to wear them.

A day after being sworn in, President Biden signed an executive order mandating mask-wearing in airports and on federal property, planes and buses, breaking from a Trump administration that often dismissed the effectiveness of wearing a mask.

To mask or not to mask? With vaccines and new guidelines, the mask-faithful navigate a ‘weird gray area.’

As the nation awaits the end of a pandemic that has killed more than 581,000 people in the United States alone, Biden is now hoping that 70 percent of adults will have at least one coronavirus vaccine shot by the Fourth of July to help inch closer to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Biden sets new vaccine goals as White House grapples with its message

The United States has administered at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 58 percent of the nation’s adult population, according to CDC data. But the pace has slowed over the past few weeks and states have reported a decline in demand, prompting state and federal officials to find incentives for people to get the shot.

That decline in demand for the vaccine has coincided with major cities preparing to fully reopen ahead of summer.

On Sunday, Fauci adjusted that timeline for a return to normalcy in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” predicting that it could be achieved by Mother’s Day of next year. He emphasized that such a timetable would be possible only if an “overwhelming proportion” of the population gets vaccinated.

“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,” Fauci said.

Read more:

Beer, bouquets and free rounds at a gun range: How local governments promote vaccines

To mask or not to mask? With vaccines and new guidelines, the mask-faithful navigate a ‘weird gray area.’

Vaccinated? Great. But wear a mask when indoors or in crowds, experts say.