Update: There’s been a major change to indoor mask guidelines in the United States. On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that those who are fully vaccinated — meaning it’s been two weeks since they’ve received their final dose of a COVID vaccine — will be able to safely stop wearing masks outdoors and in most indoor locations. As Canadians, it’s easy to be envious of this update, especially because parts of the country are still in strict lockdown, and there’s no sign that the government is even beginning to consider switching up our current face-mask regulations. (Editor's note: KEEP YOUR MASKS ON.)
The good news about our neighbour’s decision? It’s an indication we're heading in the right direction when it comes to vaccine rollout and controlling COVID. “It’s great,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto-based infectious disease expert with University Health Network, of the CDC’s announcement. “The whole goal of these vaccines is to help us return to some sense of normalcy. And the way to get there is through vaccination. When you vaccinate enough people, the risks to the community goes down.”
Currently Canada is trailing the U.S. when it comes to vaccines; as of May 12, 3.6% of Canadians are fully vaccinated and 65% of eligible adults are on track to receive their first dose by the end of May. Any updates to public health measures like mask-wearing depends on how far these figures progress, as well as the rates of COVID-19 in communities, says Bogoch. While there’ll be federal guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada when it comes to Canada making a similar decision as the CDC regarding mask-wearing indoors and outdoors, that will depend on the situation locally — different provinces may implement varying guidelines.
What's more, the PHAC might not choose to implement the same rules as the CDC has. In the U.S. now, "anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said during a White House briefing, according to Associated Press. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic." (Everyone will have to continue wearing masks in certain situations, such as on planes and in healthcare settings.) As of now, it's unclear how these new regulations might affect a potential relaxation of border closures between the two countries.
For now, Bogoch advises Canadians to keep doing what they’ve been doing (ie: wearing face masks, social distancing etc.,). “We know how to protect ourselves and we know how to protect others. We know that a single dose is good, but it's not as good as two doses.” Looking at the data, Bogoch says that he expects 70 to 80% of the population will eventually get vaccinated. “If that actually plays out, we're going to be in very good shape,” he says. “When you couple that with the access to vaccines that we have, plus the speed at which we're vaccinating, we're going to see some very significant improvements in Canada in a short period of time.” In essence: “We’re probably a lot closer to [where the U.S. is] than what many might think.”
This article was originally published on May 10. The original text continues below.
At the end of last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new face mask guidelines that gave people more opportunities to ditch the covering — news that caused many to rejoice (and some to feel a little apprehensive). And yesterday, Anthony Fauci, MD, the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, mentioned that it may be time for officials to start thinking about changing indoor mask wearing guidelines, too.
During an interview Dr. Fauci gave on Sunday to ABC News, he was asked if he agreed with others who said that it was time to relax the indoor mask rules. He replied, "I think so, and I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along, and as more people get vaccinated... The CDC will be, you know, almost in real time... updating their recommendations and their guidelines."
For now, though, nothing has changed: The CDC's guidelines still say that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public settings. While Dr. Fauci said he agreed that these rules should be relaxed in the future, he also emphasized that continuing to prioritize getting vaccines into arms was key. "As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down. We’re averaging about 43,000 a day. We’ve got to get it much, much lower than that. When that gets lower, the risk of any infection indoor or outdoor diminishes dramatically," he said to ABC News.
Currently, more than 152 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over 114 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. That means around 58% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, a number that President Joe Biden hopes to increase to 70% by July 4.
Even after guidelines begin to relax, we may never be saying a full goodbye to face masks. In a different interview with NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Dr. Fauci noted that it's likely that people who have grown used to wearing face masks will continue to do so — if not all the time, then at least seasonally, like during peak cold and flu season to prevent the spread of common illnesses.
We know that masks are part of an effective strategy when it comes to fighting infectious diseases. Flu cases have dropped dramatically this year: There were fewer than 2,000 flu cases confirmed in the U.S. while last year, there were around 38 million flu cases. Flu deaths have dropped, too. One child is reported to have died from the flu in the most recent flu season, compared to 195 deaths during the 2019 to 2020 season. "We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against COVID-19," Dr. Fauci said to NBC.
But even those who may opt to wear a mask in the future during cold and flu season are likely looking forward to a loosening of the current face mask guidelines, since that would mean that COVID-19 cases were decreasing and the pandemic was, hopefully, reaching an end. While Dr. Fauci's words gave us something to look forward to, for now, we must continue to wear masks when we're around people from outside our household, especially when we're indoors.
And if you haven't already, get vaccinated. As Dr. Fauci reminded us, as the number of fully vaccinated Americans goes up, the less likely we'll see a surge in COVID-19 cases in the upcoming fall and winter, which will then lead us closer to normalcy, Dr. Fauci says. His hope? We'll be back to normal one year from now. "I hope that next Mother’s Day, we’re going to see a dramatic difference than what we’re seeing right now. I believe that we will be about as close to back to normal as we can," he told ABC, adding, "We’ve got to make sure that we get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated."