Do We Still Need to Keep Wearing Masks Outdoors?

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ASPartOfMe
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23 Apr 2021, 7:54 am

Science shows that the risk of viral transmission outside is very low. The “two-out-of-three rule” can help you decide whether to mask up.

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As more people get vaccinated and spring weather and sunshine beckon us outdoors, one question may be nagging at you: Do we still need to wear masks outside?

More than a year into pandemic life, many people remain confused about the risk of spending time outdoors around other people. A growing body of research shows that transmission of Covid-19 is far less likely outdoors than inside, and the risk will get even lower as more people get vaccinated and cases continue to decline. But many states have yet to lift strict outdoor mask mandates. In Massachusetts, for instance, outdoor masking is required at all times, even when nobody else is around.

Recently the online magazine Slate stirred controversy when it suggested an end to outdoor mask rules. The article won support from top public health experts and even The New England Journal of Medicine blog but prompted a fierce backlash from readers, who noted that while the risk of outdoor transmission may be low, it’s not zero.

“Shallow and selfish take,” wrote one reader on Twitter. “You have blood on your hands. You should feel ashamed,” posted another.

Many virus and public health experts say the guidance hasn’t changed — spending time with others outside during the pandemic has always been safer than indoors. But whether a mask is needed outdoors depends on the circumstances, including local public health rules and whether you and the people you’re with are vaccinated. Brief encounters with an unmasked person passing you on the sidewalk or a hiking trail are very low risk, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on viral transmission. Viral particles quickly disperse in outdoor air, and the risk of inhaling aerosolized virus from a jogger or passers-by is negligible, she said. Even if a person coughs or sneezes outside as you walk by, the odds of you getting a large enough dose of virus to become infected remain low, she said.

Dr. Marr uses a simple two-out-of-three rule for deciding when to wear a mask in public spaces or when she doesn’t know everyone’s vaccination status. In these situations, she makes sure she’s meeting two out of three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked. “If you’re outdoors, you either need to be distanced or masked,” she said. “If you’re not outdoors, you need to be distanced and masked. This is how I’ve been living for the past year. It all comes down to my two-out-of-three rule.”

If you stop to have an extended conversation with someone who isn’t vaccinated, masks are recommended. Even outdoors, your risk of breathing someone else’s air increases the longer and closer you stand to them. One of the few documented cases of outdoor transmission happened in China early in the pandemic, when a 27-year-old man stopped to chat outside with a friend who had just returned from Wuhan, where the virus originated. Seven days later, he had his first symptoms of Covid-19.

And masks are still advised if you find yourself in an outdoor crowd. Standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers during an outdoor concert or a protest could increase risk, particularly for the unvaccinated.

Walking your dog, riding a bike, hiking on a trail or picnicking with members of your household or vaccinated friends are all activities where the risk for virus exposure is negligible. In these kinds of situations, you can keep a mask on hand in your pocket, in case you find yourself in a crowd or need to go indoors.

“I think it’s a bit too much to ask people to put the mask on when they go out for a walk or jogging or cycling,” said Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer of infectious disease and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland, where outdoor masking has never been required. “We’re in a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks should not have been mandated at all. It’s not where the infection and transmission occurs.”

“Let me go for my run, maskless. Mask in pocket,” tweeted Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and the medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center. “Given how conservative I have been on my opinions all year, this should tell you how low risk is, in general, for outdoors transmission for contact over short periods — and lower still after vaccination. Keep the masks on you for when you are stationary in a crowd and headed indoors.”

To understand just how low the risk of outdoor transmission is, researchers in Italy used mathematical models to calculate the amount of time it would take for a person to become infected outdoors in Milan. They imagined a grim scenario in which 10 percent of the population was infected with the coronavirus. Their calculations showed that if a person avoided crowds, it would take, on average, 31.5 days of continuous outdoor exposure to inhale a dose of virus sufficient to transmit infection.

“The results are that this risk is negligible in outdoor air if crowds and direct contact among people are avoided,” said Daniele Contini, senior author of the study and an aerosol scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Lecce, Ital

Even as more-infectious virus variants circulate, the physics of viral transmission outdoors haven’t changed, and the risk of getting infected outdoors is still low, say virus experts.

Dr. Cevik notes that debates about outdoor masking and articles showing photos of crowded beaches during the pandemic have left people with the wrong impression that parks and beaches are unsafe, and distracted from the much higher risks of indoor transmission. Often it’s the indoor activities associated with outdoor fun — like traveling unmasked in a subway or car to go hiking, or dropping into a pub after spending time at the beach — that pose the highest risk. “People hold barbecues outdoors, but then they spend time indoors chatting in the kitchen,” said Dr. Cevik.

But it’s OK to keep wearing your mask outdoors if you prefer it. After a year of taking pandemic precautions, it may be hard for people to adjust to less restrictive behaviors.

“In the coming months, ‘normal life’ will begin to become safer, but I worry that some people won’t be willing or able to relax pandemic restrictions in ways that makes sense,” Dr. Golub said. “I worry that folks have internalized the fear messaging without understanding the reasons behind specific behavioral recommendations, and therefore, the reasons that they can be modified as circumstances change.”


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Fenn
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23 Apr 2021, 10:07 am

Do We Still Need to Keep Wearing Masks Outdoors?

Yes.


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KT67
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23 Apr 2021, 11:00 am

No

Never have done never will do

In town centres is different because of lack of social distancing

If you're out in a field yourself/with your dog/with your family... you do not have to wear a mask esp if one is uncomfortable eg if you're autistic

Use common sense for the in between spaces and remember to social distance


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ASPartOfMe
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23 Apr 2021, 11:49 am

I have been practicing what the article preaches from when this whole thing started. I was practicing it despite being a cancer survivor. I was practicing it one year ago when COVID was spreading exponentially and my area was the epicenter of the pandemic.

I did not do it because I believe it is a hoax, a conspiracy, or real but way overhyped. As a fully vaccinated person while indoors I am still going to mask up unless I know everybody else in that indoor space is fully vaccinated. I am going to do that despite still not being used to the damn things.

As said in the article the virus disperses outdoors. When last summer there was all those protests and riots every day with people packed together outdoors the rates did not go up. As said in the article the problem is not big outdoor crowds per se but those crowds after the event packing into bars and restaurants, those are your super spreader events. Dispite that I will mask up in a big outdoor crowd or a packed city street out of an abundance of caution.

But masking up on my daily walk is not happening. If COVID was so contagious you can catch it from a person down the block we would all be dead or long haulers by now.

Outdoor exercise in fresh air increases your resistance so even if you catch it it won’t be as bad. Sitting at home constantly panicked lowers your resistance.


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Last edited by ASPartOfMe on 23 Apr 2021, 1:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

KT67
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23 Apr 2021, 12:30 pm

Tbh I do it in town centres cos:
1 My social anxiety is lessened when I wear a coat and the mask seems to be the same. A barrier between me and the world
2 People judge the hell out of you if you don't and my social anxiety can't cope with their stares


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23 Apr 2021, 12:38 pm

I think - to the extent that you EVERY had to wear a mask out of doors - you still have to.
The argument that if you keep 6 feet away from your neighbor you and you are in the great outdoors where the wind can blow doesn't really change that. My wife and I went for a walk in a near by park. We wore masks, but took them off (wore them around our necks) while were walking - if we were going to infect each other we would have done so by now, or will as soon as we get home and take off our masks. My wife wears glasses and wearing her mask fogs them up. And it was easier to talk. When we saw someone coming the other way on the trail we quickly put our masks on. We expected (and saw) other people do the same.

We still do not know if a person who is immune because of receiving a vaccine can be a carrier.
My mask protects you and your mask protects me.

So that is how it seems to me at this time.
There is still a lot we don't know about this virus and these brand new vaccines. Someone might die.


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sorrowfairiewhisper
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23 Apr 2021, 1:10 pm

I think if anyone's got a cold or cough it's a good idea, especially around other people or in closed spaces and shops.
Even for general flu. Or better yet self isolate. otherwise hopefully no
Some countries do for pollution



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23 Apr 2021, 3:55 pm

KT67 wrote:
No

Never have done never will do

In town centres is different because of lack of social distancing

If you're out in a field yourself/with your dog/with your family... you do not have to wear a mask esp if one is uncomfortable eg if you're autistic

Use common sense for the in between spaces and remember to social distance


This needs an upvote!

I've been out and about all the time since last June because of work. I'm more strict and cautious than 99% of the people around me, but after a couple of months even I removed my mask outside when the situation was right. Parks and suburban streets: no mask, because there's plenty of room to avoid close contact with the few people I pass. Town centre and the university campus where I work: masks all the way. In town, far too many people getting way too close. On campus: I don't know if it's because they spent several months cooped up in halls in "bubbles" of around 12, but students don't get the distancing thing at all.


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