A health expert at Johns Hopkins University is warning that mask-wearing and some social distancing measures may be part of life in the United States for years to come.
Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, specializes in pandemic preparedness and has met with government officials all over the world about viral outbreaks such as the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.
Widespread vaccinations for the disease will not be available for years to come, and until then, Americans will have to adjust, Toner told CNET.
“I think that mask wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with — hopefully living with happily — for several years,” Toner said. “It’s actually pretty straightforward. If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you’re interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down. Being outside, having distance between you and other people reduces the risk of transmission dramatically.”
“There are a lot of things you can do and maintain those conditions. If you spread out, if you maintain distance, if you avoid crowded places, you could go to a beach, you go to the mountains, you could go to a lake, you can do things outside without a problem,” Toner said.
States such as California, Texas, and Michigan that had begun to relax strict lockdown orders enacted after the outbreak of the coronavirus are putting some of those restrictions back in place as case numbers for those states begin to rise.
The rise in case numbers has not come with a corresponding rise in deaths, raising questions about whether rising case numbers justify a heavy-handed government response if vulnerable populations are not getting sick. In fact, deaths from the coronavirus have fallen in the U.S. for 10 consecutive weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Toner, however, says that masks will be a part of life for the foreseeable future, and for those that refuse to wear coverings, “They will get over it … It’s just a question of how many people get sick and die before they get over it.”
Toner’s comments appear to challenge the optimistic scenario pushed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and who was instrumental in shaping the United States’ response to the virus early on. Fauci has said that the U.S. could have 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of the year.
“We are going to start manufacturing doses of the vaccine way before we even know if the vaccine works,” Fauci said in June. “The prediction of the statistical analysis and the projection of cases indicate that we may know whether it’s efficacious by maybe November, December … By that time, we hopefully would have close to 100 million doses.”
Later in the month, Fauci blunted the news and said that although the vaccine would be ready for widespread use by the start of next year, it may not inoculate enough people to reach herd immunity in the U.S. because of “a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country — an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking.”