It will continue to be important for everyone to wear masks in public or around other people until large enough numbers of people have gotten the vaccine or the disease has stopped spreading through communities. It’s impossible to tell by looking at someone whether they’ve been vaccinated, so it would be impossible to effectively enforce mask mandates if only unvaccinated people were required to wear masks. (There aren’t plans to issue bracelets like those seen in the movie Contagion or anything similar.) Further, no vaccine is 100% effective, and we don’t yet know if any of the vaccines prevent transmission, so it might be possible to catch or transmit the disease even if you have been vaccinated.
“People have to understand that this is not a magic wand,” said Peggy Hamburg, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Once the vaccine starts to go out to priority populations, that doesn’t mean that suddenly we can abandon all of the other activities that are so important in terms of reducing rates of infection and controlling spread. It’s going to take time for the vaccine to get to everyone that needs it, and the vaccine will not be fully protective against infection and disease. We are still going to need to do those things that work, including wearing masks and social distancing.”
It’s possible that the more people who get vaccines, the more restrictions can be gradually loosened for restaurants, group gatherings, and similar activities, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Plan to continue following the CDC’s and other health experts’ recommendations as much as you can. Perhaps we can leave our masks at home by late 2021, but it’s impossible to say for now.