Federal guidance on indoor mask use may change soon, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on May 9.
He was asked whether it’s time to start relaxing indoor mask requirements.
“I think so, and I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along and as more people get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said on ABC News’s This Week.Nearly 150 million adults in the United States – or about 58% of the adult population – have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the latest CDC tally. About 113 million adults, or 44%, are considered fully vaccinated.
“The CDC will be, you know, almost in real time … updating their recommendations and their guidelines,” Dr. Fauci said.
In April, the CDC relaxed its guidance for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who have gotten a shot don’t need to wear a mask outdoors or in small indoor gatherings with other vaccinated people, but both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are still advised to wear masks in indoor public spaces.
“We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down.”
The United States is averaging about 43,000 cases per day, he said, adding that the cases need to be “much, much lower.” When the case numbers drop and vaccination numbers increase, the risk of infection will fall dramatically indoors and outdoors, he said.
Even after the pandemic, though, wearing masks could become a seasonal habit, Dr. Fauci said May 9 on NBC News’s Meet the Press.“I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks, clearly if you look at the data, it diminishes respiratory diseases. We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year,” he said.
“So it is conceivable that as we go on, a year or 2 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,” he said.
Dr. Fauci was asked about indoor mask guidelines on May 9 after former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said face mask requirements should be relaxed.
“Certainly outdoors, we shouldn’t be putting limits on gatherings anymore,” Dr. Gottlieb said on CBS News’s Face the Nation.“The states where prevalence is low, vaccination rates are high, we have good testing in place, and we’re identifying infections, I think we could start lifting these restrictions indoors as well, on a broad basis,” he said.
Lifting pandemic-related restrictions in areas where they’re no longer necessary could also encourage people to implement them again if cases increase during future surges, such as this fall or winter, Dr. Gottlieb said.
At the same time, Americans should continue to follow CDC guidance and wait for new guidelines before changing their indoor mask use, Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said on CNN’s State of the Union on May 9.
“We all want to get back to a normal lifestyle,” he said. “I think we’re on the path to do that, but stay disciplined, and let’s take advantage of the new privilege of being vaccinated and not wearing masks outdoors, for example, unless you’re in a crowded place.”
Mr. Zients pointed to President Joe Biden’s goal for 70% of adults to receive at least one vaccine dose by July 4.
“As we all move toward that 70% goal, there will be more and more advantages to being vaccinated,” he said. “And if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not protected.”
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.