The mask skepticism from the White House was so evident that officials inside the West Wing began to stop personally wearing masks for fear of retribution.

“If you stepped into a meeting with the president and you wore a mask when he and the rest of the room were not, you would very likely hear about it from the president himself,” said a Trump administration official who has been in the room in such cases. “It was well-known [in the building] that if you wanted to be taken seriously by the president, you should take his lead on the masks thing… and not be the guy wearing a mask in a gathering with him, as if to say you’re sticking it to [Trump].”

Now, officials say that months of the president mocking mask-wearers and refusing to wear a mask in public has not only instilled a false sense of security in some Americans but facilitated the spread of the virus. Officials say they’ve reached the point of no return—that the time for getting the message out that masks, in particular, are necessary—has passed. And that, they said, points to a dangerous new reality: that the virus could continue to spread throughout the country, killing more people, throughout the next year.

“At least, through the next year,” one senior health official said. “What happens when you can’t convince people to help not only save themselves but save other people by simply wearing a mask?”