How Much Longer Will We Need to Wear Masks?

You might be donning your face mask well into the rest of the year.

Wearing masks may be the new normal for quite some time. Face masks were once seen as the punchline to the coronavirus joke and a senseless overreaction, but these small pieces of cloth have become a necessity. Everyone is wearing them—from grocery store cashiers to restaurant servers to bus drivers, and parents are even putting them over the mouths of their children for walks around the block. It’s unspoken knowledge these days that our masks will be taken with our wallet and keys on the way out the door, but how long will we really have to wear this extra layer of protection?

Until there is a vaccine

“We will need to continue to wear face masks outside of our homes and in groups until a vaccine is discovered and administered,” says Dr. Kevin Lee, an eye physician and surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates within the Pacific Vision Eye Institute in San Francisco.

A vaccine could take up to a year to develop and distribute to the public, according to the New York Times, so it’s possible we could be waiting that long.

“The best alternative would be that COVID is gone or decreases so much that it is not spreading through communities,” says Leann Poston of Invigor Medical. “Another alternative would be a vaccine that is safe and effective. This would require enough people getting vaccinated and developing antibodies to provide herd immunity so COVID is not spread.”

Until we achieve a mass immunity

“It will be safe to leave the masks at home once we have achieved herd immunity,” says Dr. Noah Greenspan, founder of the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation. “The idea of herd immunity is that a majority of the herd (60-75 percent) has been exposed to COVID-19, developed antibodies, and therefore would have some degree of immunity from the disease which will protect the rest from getting infected.”

It’s important to remember that herd immunity can be effective if done carefully and in a controlled way like using a vaccine rather than waiting until the majority of the population becomes ill. Learn how you can protect yourself and prevent most illnesses just by washing your hands.

“It is only when 0 cases are found in the community for more than 14 days that it is truly safe to leave them at home. Especially people of my age or who are compromised in some way. If we insist on being in close proximity to one another in large groups, the virus spreads unchecked,” explains Andrew Taylor, director of Net Lawman.

Until we have peace of mind

“Wearing masks provides a significant psychological comfort of security for many people,” notes Brian Ma, real estate broker at Flushing Real Estate Group.

So, face masks won’t be going anywhere any time soon—most people feel safer wearing a mask outside right now. When society feels comfortable and safe without one will ultimately hold the most weight when it comes to freeing ourselves of face masks.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.