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February 22, 2021

How long will Americans need to wear masks? Here's Fauci's prediction.

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    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser for the White House's Covid-19 response, on Sunday said it's "possible" Americans may have to wear face masks in 2022 to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus, even as the United States may return to "a significant degree of normality" by the end of this year.

    When will the Covid-19 epidemic end? Here are the good, bad, and ugly scenarios.

    America may reach 'a significant degree of normality' by end of 2021—but masks may be needed

    Fauci on Sunday appeared on multiple TV news programs, where he discussed America's possible return to a pre-pandemic normal, the emergence of new coronavirus variants, and Covid-19 vaccinations, among other topics.

    During an interview on CNN's "State of the Union,", Fauci said he believes the United States will reach "a significant degree of normality" by the end of 2021.

    "As we get into the fall and winter, by the end of the year, I agree with [President Biden] completely that we will be approaching a degree of normality," Fauci said. "It may or may not be precisely the way it was in November of 2019, but it will be much, much better than what we're doing right now."

    Still, Fauci said it's "possible" Americans may have to continue to wear face masks to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus in 2022, a practice that many Americans view as a sign of unprecedented times, according to the Washington Post.

    Aa for now, Fauci said it's important for Americans to continue to wear face masks and follow other public health measures aimed at curbing the novel coronavirus's spread, particularly because experts worry the United States could see another spike in new coronavirus cases, in part because new and more transmissible variants of the virus are spreading throughout the country.

    According to data from CDC, the United States as of Sunday reported 1,688 total cases of novel coronavirus variants across 44 U.S. states and territories, including 1,661 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 22 cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, and five cases of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil. Research has indicated that all three of those variants are more transmissible and may be less susceptible to current Covid-19 vaccines than earlier variants of the novel coronavirus, and data suggests the U.K. variant may also be more deadly than earlier variants of the virus.

    Fauci said he wouldn't advise Americans to stop wearing face masks until the number of newly reported coronavirus cases in the country has gone down "to a baseline that's so low there is virtually no threat" and most people in the country have been vaccinated against Covid-19. "If you combine getting most of the people in the country vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very, very low, then I believe you're going to be able to say, you know, for the most part, we don't necessarily have to wear masks," Fauci said.

    Fauci also said that he hopes high school students will be eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines in the fall. According to Fauci, health officials are calling on drugmakers to conduct further research to show whether Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective among teenagers and younger children, but he expects that vaccinations for younger children "likely will not [occur] before the beginning of the first quarter of 2022."

    Where America's coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19 vaccine rollout stand

    Fauci's comments come as recent data indicates America's coronavirus epidemic has improved since last month's peak in reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The reported rates of each of those metrics remain high, however.

    According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Sunday reported about 55,195 new coronavirus cases. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 28.1 million cases of the novel coronavirus since the United States' epidemic began.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 66,393—down by 44% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    As of Monday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Alaska, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, which have each reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week.

    In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Monday morning in Guam; Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and 17 states: Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

    All other states had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Monday morning, according to the Times' data.

    Meanwhile, U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19 remained high as of Sunday but were down significantly from record highs reported last month and had reached the lowest level since Nov. 7, the Times reports. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 56,159 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Sunday, including 11,862 who were receiving care in an ICU and 3,915 who were on a ventilator.

    The drop in Covid-19 hospitalizations—which experts attribute to a number of factors, including more widespread mask use, more effective public health messaging, and increasing numbers of Covid-19 vaccinations—is making some providers feel more optimistic about the future of America's coronavirus epidemic, the Times reports.

    For example, Denise Gonzales, Presbyterian Rust Medical Center's medical director, said she's noticed a change in her staff's demeanor. "People are smiling. They are optimistic," Gonzales said. "They're making plans for the future."

    The United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus also has declined in recent weeks, though it remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 1,247 new deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 498,650 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.

    As for America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout, CDC data shows that the federal government as of Sunday morning had distributed about 75.2 million doses of the country's two authorized Covid-19 vaccines, which each require that patients receive two doses of the inoculation a few weeks apart. The CDC data shows that about 63.1 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to people in the United States, including about 43.6 million people who'd received "one or more doses" of a vaccine and about 18.9 million people who'd received two doses (Rummler, Axios, 2/21; Cole, CNN, 2/21; Goodnough, New York Times, 2/21; Thebault, Washington Post, 2/21; Delkic/Ngo, New York Times, 2/22; CDC variants data, updated 2/21; CDC vaccine data, 2/21; New York Times, 2/22; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 2/22).

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