Mask-wearing could become seasonal after COVID pandemic, Fauci says. Here’s why

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said mask-wearing could be a seasonal habit to combat common illnesses, even after the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, said during a Sunday interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” it was “quite possible” that people will decide to wear masks seasonally to prevent catching colds or the flu.

“We’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominately against COVID-19,” he said. “So it is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now that during certain seasonal periods when you have respiratory borne viruses like the flu, people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these respiratory borne diseases.”

This year’s flu season was virtually non-existent due to COVID prevention measures including social distancing and mask-wearing, with fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. this season, according to the CDC. There were around 38 million flu cases during the 2019-2020 season, the agency said.

“It’s been an amazing year,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of California-Berkeley, according to USA Today. “In all my years of being a flu watcher … I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Swartzberg said the lower number of flu cases shouldn’t impact next year’s season.

“It’s not like what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he said. “We don’t need to be exposed to influenza on a regular basis and get sick to have stronger immune systems.”

Recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without wearing a mask and conduct activities outdoors without wearing masks, except in crowded areas.

When asked during an ABC News interview Sunday about whether relaxing indoor mask mandates will be a possibility soon, Fauci said: “I think so. And I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along and as more people get vaccinated.”

Fauci added that “we do need to start being more liberal” about mask-wearing requirements.

“As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down. We’re averaging about 43,000 a day. We’ve got to get it much, much lower than that. When that gets lower, the risk of any infection indoor or outdoor diminishes dramatically,” he said.

There have been at least 38 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of May 10 and more than 581,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University with case and death rates dropping.

As of May 9, around 152 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including around 114 million people — just over a third of the population — who are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that he thinks it would be “possible” but unlikely that the U.S. get rid of COVID-19 entirely because “we don’t seem to be prepared to do it and take the collective action that it’s going to require.”

“You look at measles, smallpox, polio, we vaccinate children. It affords them a level of protection that lasts in perpetuity or well into their adulthood and so we’re able to eradicate — or largely eradicate — those diseases in societies where we have vaccination levels that are very high,” Gottlieb said, adding that “large enough” portion of the population is resisting getting vaccinated.

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