Health experts won’t ask Americans to take off their masks any time soon.
That’s the take of Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He has been preparing for an outbreak like the novel coronavirus as part of his work for years.
Johns Hopkins practices virus simulations as part of is preparedness protocol, with the goal of offering public health experts and policymakers a blueprint of what to do in a pandemic. One of those simulations took place in October 2019, when Toner and a team of researchers launched a coronavirus pandemic simulation in New York, running through various scenarios on how residents, governments and private businesses would hypothetically react to the threat.
One thing that stood out to him: Face coverings are a vital defense to stop the spread of the virus. He believes COVID-19 won’t slow down in the U.S. even as states start to slowly reopen.
“There's going to be no summertime lull with a big wave in the fall,” he said as part of CNET’s Hacking the Apocalypse series. “It's clear that we are having a significant resurgence of cases in the summer, and they'll get bigger. And it'll keep going until we lock things down again.”
The U.S. recently added about 43,000 positive COVID-19 cases to its 2.9 million total, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. The death total has surpassed 130,000.
Toner, contrasting the novel virus to seasonal influenza, said until there is a vaccine, communities’ best defense to fight it is through creating distance and wearing masks.
“I think that mask wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with — hopefully living with happily — for several years,” he said. “It's actually pretty straightforward. If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you're interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top official handling the U.S. COVID-19 response, said recently he was cautiously optimistic that there could be a vaccine for the virus by 2021.
For those who refuse to wear a mask in the interim, Toner said they’ll eventually wise up.
“They will get over it," he says. "It's just a question of how many people get sick and die before they get over it."