Masks could become seasonal after pandemic, Fauci says

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci adjust his lab-themed face mask while talking to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. Federal health agencies called for a pause in the administration of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after six women in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease expert, said Sunday that people may decide to wear masks seasonally after the coronavirus pandemic to help avoid spreading or contracting respiratory illnesses such as the flu.

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.

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"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 including masks. And a sharp decline of flu infections during this year's season have led to only one registered pediatric death, compared with dozens in past years, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 CDC 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.

The announcement brought a sense 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; governments in Mississippi and Texas lifted the restriction altogether.

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 questioned the science behind it, alluding to misinformation.

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

A day after being sworn in, President Joe 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.

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

The United States has administered at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 58% 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 before 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 2022. 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.

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