There’s been much debate, and a whole lot of comments muttered under the breath, about whether we need to be strict about wearing masks outdoors. Some argue that being out in the open air means the risk of Covid-19 transmission is significantly lower. Others aggressively bark at joggers to put their masks on even if there’s nobody else nearby (I’ve been at the receiving end of that, so I know first-hand). At the end of April the CDC finally weighed in with their new face mask guidelines to put the debate to rest.
Here’s what the CDC says about wearing masks outdoors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have effectively relaxed their mask guidelines in the US – for those who have been vaccinated at least.
According to the New York Times, “the mask guidance is modest and carefully written: Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to wear a mask outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or when in small gatherings, including with members of their own households. Masks are still necessary in crowded outdoor venues like sports stadiums.”
Naturally, this newly returned freedom came with a few caveats.The announcement does not encourage even vaccinated people to shed their masks entirely. It also cautions people – vaccinated or not – to avoid going maskless in medium-sized outdoor gatherings. It does not clarify what constitutes as a small- or medium-sized gathering, however.
It’s also important to keep in mind that we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to being in groups of people who aren’t wearing masks. Even if you’re vaccinated and outdoors, it may make some feel uncomfortable if you’re getting up in their face. Better check beforehand to avoid any awkwardness.
If I’m not American, does this matter?
Even for those living in other countries, these guidelines are a light at the end of the tunnel. If one of the worst-affected nations can even think about relaxing regulations, this is good news for all of us. It reminds us that there’s a future in which mask wearing outdoors won’t be a necessity. It conjures up glorious visions of picnicking with friends and being able to see their faces. Possibly more importantly, we won’t have to fear the dreaded mask tan.
But as the New York Times states, “A growing body of research indicates that the odds of the virus spreading outdoors are far lower than they are indoors, but that the risk is not zero and is hard to quantify”. In at least one documented case in Italy, the virus did in fact manage to spread between joggers who were running outdoors together, side by side.
Therefore this announcement, conversely, is also a reminder that for those of us who have not been vaccinated, we should still be wearing our masks outdoors. At least, we should if we’re in a group. Many of us have become lax with our masks and our sanitiser as the pandemic has crawled on. This should serve as a wake up call. If only those who have been vaccinated should be going maskless outside, the rest of us should keep our mouths and noses ( this is important!) covered as much as we possibly can.
While vaccine roll-outs have been slow in most countries, we have much to look forward to. As more and more of us receive our vaccinations, we can finally start connecting with friends and family once again. For now, rather be safe than sorry, and keep that mask securely on your face when in company, to protect yourself and them.