By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – PBS South Florida’s Health Channel hosted a town hall meeting with medical experts answering questions on vaccines and lending their thoughts on when we may return to “normal.”

While people wait for their chance to get in line, these doctors emphasize that we still need to be taking the measures we’ve been told from the beginning.

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“We have to get our head around wearing a mask this year,” says Dr. Geeta Nayyer, a Professor of Medicine at FIU. “You need to wear a mask in 2021, whether you have been vaccinated or not.”

They also still discourage maskless gatherings, even among vaccinated individuals, since they may still be carriers.

“Partly its protection for the subset who can still get sick,” explains Dr. Atul Gawande, with Harvard University. “Second, to bring this virus under control, we need much more of the population vaccinated before those things can happen.”

The more the virus transmits, Dr. Anthony Fauci says, the more it has the chance to mutate. It is still unclear how our current vaccines protect against them

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“With the U.K. mutant, I believe we will be okay,” says Fauci. “Things are a bit more formidable with the South African mutant.”

One of the main questions they say they receive is: “When will things will return to normal?”

Dr. Gawande says to be prepared for gradual stages.

“There’s a stage where we will see where the hospitals are protected, and the levels of virus are coming down,” he says. “Once the people in assisted living are vaccinated, those people can now come out of solitary confinement and see family with masks on. People will be able to travel more safely, with masks on, and doing those things and that will be another phase.”

In the meantime, according to these panelists, we are nowhere near ditching the mask.

“We will get there faster if we, as a society, understand that we have a moral and ethical obligation to try to bring this pandemic under control,” says Dr. Henri Ford, Chief Academic Officer at University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke from Sun City Center Wednesday, as the state prepares to receive more than 300,000 additional doses next week.

Karli Barnett