Do we still need to continue to wear masks outdoors?

If you stop having a prolonged conversation with someone who is not vaccinated, masks are recommended. Even outdoors, your risk of breathing someone else’s air increases the more you hold onto them. One of the few documented cases of outside transmission occurred in China at the start of 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 always recommended if you find yourself in an outdoor crowd. Standing side-by-side with strangers at an outdoor concert or event could increase risk, especially for unvaccinated people.

Recently, on a mask-less hike, Dr. Marr said she still made an effort to stay away from large groups when the trail was crowded.

“If I was going through a solo hiker, that wasn’t relevant to me,” Dr. Marr said. “But if I passed a group of 10 hikers in a row, I would stray even further from the path. The risk is still low, but at some point there might be a large enough group of people that the risk becomes appreciable. “

Walking your dog, biking, hiking on a trail or picnicking with members of your household or vaccinated friends are all activities where the risk of exposure to the virus is negligible. In such situations, you can keep a mask handy in your pocket, in case you find yourself in a crowd or need to go inside.

“I think it’s a little too much to ask people to put on the mask when they go out for a walk, jog or bike,” said Dr. Muge Cevik, Clinical Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medical Virology at St. Andrews University School of Medicine in Scotland, where exterior masking was never required. “We are at a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks shouldn’t have been mandatory at all. This is not where infection and transmission occur. “

“Let me go for a run, without a mask.” Mask in the pocket, ”tweeted Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, infectious disease physician and medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center. “Given how cautious I have been about my opinions all year round, this should tell you how low the risk is, in general, of outward contact transmission over short periods – and even more so. weak after vaccination. Keep the masks on you when standing still in a crowd and heading inside. “

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

“The results are that this risk is negligible in outdoor air if crowds and direct contact between people are avoided,” said Daniele Contini, lead author of the study and aerosol researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences. and the climate of Lecce, Italy.

Even though more infectious virus variants are circulating, the physics of viral transmission outdoors has not changed and the risk of getting infected outdoors is still low, virus experts say. Pay attention to the infection rates in your community. If the number of cases increases, your risk of meeting an infected person increases.

Dr Cevik notes that debates over outdoor masking and articles showing photos of crowded beaches during the pandemic have left people with the false impression that parks and beaches are dangerous and distracted from the much higher risks of transmission to the world. inside. Often, it’s the indoor activities associated with outdoor entertainment – such as traveling unmasked in a subway or car to hike, or going to a pub after spending time at the beach – that present the most risk. Student. “People have barbecues outside, but then spend time indoors chatting in the kitchen,” said Dr. Cevik.

As more and more people get vaccinated, decisions to go out without a mask will become easier. Although no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, the rate of rupture infections so far has been extremely low. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported just 5,800 cases of rupture infections among 75 million people vaccinated. And the CDC said friends and family who were vaccinated could spend time together safely, without masks.

But you can continue to wear your mask outside if you prefer. After a year of taking pandemic precautions, it can be difficult for people to adjust to less restrictive behaviors. Sarit A. Golub, a psychology professor at Hunter College at City University in New York City, said it was important for the media and public health officials to communicate the reasons why people may change certain behaviors, such as outward masking.

“In the coming months ‘normal life’ will start to become safer, but I’m concerned that some people may not be willing or able to loosen the pandemic restrictions in a logical way,” Dr Golub said. “I’m concerned that people have internalized the fear messages without understanding the reasons behind the specific behavioral recommendations, and therefore, the reasons why they can be changed as circumstances change.”

Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said he was recently with a group of parents, including many vaccinated doctors, who gathered in a New Haven park to celebrate the first anniversary of a child. “We’re all on our feet, everyone was masked, and then we started asking, ‘When is it time for us to be outside and take off our masks? Said Dr Gonsalves. “If people are vaccinated and you are outside, masks are probably unnecessary at this point.”

But Dr Gonsalves said he understands why some people may be reluctant to ditch their masks outside. “Part of this is the Covid hangover,” he says. “We were so traumatized by it all. I think we need to have a little compassion for people who have a hard time letting go.

Illustrations by Eden Weingart

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