Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at email@example.com.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m still confused about what our lives will be like after we are vaccinated. As I understand it, it will still be possible to get the virus, but hopefully the course won’t be as severe or life-threatening. And we are going to have people who won’t even get the vaccine. Do you foresee us still wearing masks for the next year or two? I hate to even type this question.
New London, New Hampshire
I can’t wait to stop wearing masks. I want to go out without a mask so badly that I’ve been dreaming about it. That’s how far the pandemic has lowered the ambitions of my dreams.
Last month, Joe Biden said he will urge Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency. “Just 100 days to mask,” he said, “not forever.” That sounds manageable even for those of us who can’t wait to go out maskless: I’m absolutely sick of this, but I can do 100 more days.
Setting this sort of short-term goal can be helpful in making a seemingly endless challenge like this pandemic more manageable. But, to be blunt, 100 days is not a realistic end point. On our current trajectory of illness and infection, masks will be part of most Americans’ lives for at least the rest of the year, and possibly longer. My hope is that it will soon be possible to say, as a general rule, that once you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask. But that depends on two key variables.