Continuing to wear a face mask is also important because of the new COVID variants that have been identified. Because they're thought to be more infectious, they can spread more easily to more people if vaccinated people are able to transmit the virus and don't wear a mask.
There's another reason to keep masking up even after you've been vaccinated. "In our modern society, we don't discriminate by immune status, and the ethics of doing so would be a very slippery slope," Michal Tal, PhD, an immunologist at Stanford University, tells Health. "It's already hard to get everyone to follow current masking regulations, and now if you have some people who are vaccinated (and likely, but not certainly, immune from developing COVID-19 symptoms) not needing to adhere to those same regulations, it will wreak additional havoc on what has already been an extremely chaotic pandemic response."
The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is clear. According to the group's guidelines, "not enough information is currently available to say if or when CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19."
Per the CDC guidelines, we need to keep social distancing (by staying six feet away from other people), too. The CDC also recommends avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often—even after you've had your COVID-19 shot.
So will we ever be able to ditch our masks? Hopefully, yes—although they might remain a significant part of life for some.
"I think that we have to continue to wear masks until everyone has had a chance to get vaccinated and we have gotten the virus under control," Tal says. "When community transmission is low and the majority of people are vaccinated, I think we'll safely be able to put our masks away."
However, nobody knows for sure what role masks will play in our future. "I've often wondered if one day we will move houses and discover an old box of masks from these days and dust it off, not having thought about it in years, or if we will start to utilize masks more and more to control the spread of other respiratory infections, such as on an especially bad flu year," Tal says.
"I suspect that moving forward, doctors and nurses may incorporate masks as a standard part of personal protective equipment for their interactions with patients" she adds. "I think that the vast majority of us, however, can look forward to mask-free days as soon as everyone has had a chance to get vaccinated and viral spread in the community is low."
**The information in this blog post is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. March 11, 2021**