But before you start spending all of your time outdoors, naked, Sax and other experts point out that decisions about when to wear a mask outdoors largely depend on personal risk assessments involving a variety of people. virus-related factors. What is your vaccination status? How many other people could you interact with? Do you know their vaccination status? How much prolonged close contact could you have with them? Are you, or is there a member of your household, at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from covid-19?
“There isn’t necessarily a simple rule of thumb,” says Krystal Pollitt, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. “A lot of it comes down to thinking again about the risk level of the situation around you and the people around you, in particular.
Here’s how the experts say you should assess the risks and what they recommend about masking in various outdoor scenarios.
How can I judge whether it is safe for me to remove my mask?
Although situations vary, there are guidelines that can help you answer this question.
If you can’t keep the distance and there are a lot of people around who might not be vaccinated or who might not be comfortable if others are unmasked, “then I think those are good clues. to wear a mask, ”says Pollitt. public health advice on masking in your area should be kept in mind.
Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech who studies airborne virus transmission, suggests keeping three factors in mind: whether you’re outside, whether you’re a safe distance from others, and whether everyone else wears masks. Ideally, says Marr, you should try to find yourself in situations where you can meet two out of three of these conditions, especially if you or those you interact with outside of your household are not vaccinated.
But if you’re on your own or come into close contact with members of your household and everyone is considered low risk, being outside without a mask is probably safe enough, experts say.
“When you’re walking your dog, going for a run, or riding a bike, these are really not risky situations for you or for people you might pass temporarily,” Sax says. Ventilation studies, he adds, have shown that air circulation outdoors is much better than indoors, “even with just a light breeze.”
This means that if you are walking without a mask and briefly encounter strangers on the trail, experts say you probably don’t need to put on a mask unless you are doing it to be polite. “We know that these aerosols will disperse very quickly outdoors,” says Pollitt, “and the risk of infection, even without vaccination, would be much lower.”
The risk decreases even more if you and the people around you are fully immunized, says Marr – “not zero risk, but get there.”
Of course, if you want to wear a mask outdoors in low risk situations, go for it. “There will be people who, for a while, will feel uncomfortable outside without a mask,” Sax says. “Any change we make in relation to this pandemic will require some adjustment.”
When can I take off my mask while socializing?
Masks are not necessary for socializing outdoors, unless you are in a crowded area where unvaccinated people from different households are close to each other for extended periods of time, experts say.
If you’re going to have a face-to-face conversation and you’re not sure if other people are fully immunized, keep your mask on, Sax says. “Face to face conversation is one of the things we know to be risky for the transmission of covid.”
But if you’re vaccinated and talking outside with people from the same household, it may be okay to take off your mask, Marr says, as long as other people are comfortable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was a low risk for a vaccinated person to spend time indoors and unmask themselves with unvaccinated people from a single household who are not vulnerable to cases. severe covid.
“If that’s okay, do it indoors, then it’s certainly okay to do it outdoors,” Marr says.
I eat out, when should I put on a mask?
Eating out is generally safe, especially if you’re vaccinated, says Marr, noting that she would not recommend that unvaccinated people from different households get together for a meal.
Regardless of your immunization status, try to avoid catering facilities where tables are close together or when you eat with other people inside a facility. “You could be under a roof, but there shouldn’t be any walls,” Marr said.
While brief, unmasked interactions with waiters are likely low risk, experts say you should always put on your mask when approaching your table to be considerate. Likewise, consider putting on your mask if you engage with someone at a passing window, even if the risk of transmission is low.
“As a courtesy, we should continue to wear masks when we meet with servers, as the servers have been frontline workers from the start,” Sax says. “I think it’s something we should just do to respect them.”
Should I wear my mask when walking or running?
Although masks are not necessary for a solo walk or run, if you are vaccinated and plan to go with someone outside your household or with a group of people who may not be vaccinated, this can increase the risk.
“The larger the group, in theory, regardless of the activity, the greater the likelihood that a person may have a covid in that group,” says Sax.
And, Pollitt notes, you’ll breathe harder if you’re running, which means you might inhale larger amounts of air someone else’s expel. If you don’t feel comfortable running with a mask on, try to keep your distance from other people in the group, she says.
People who want to walk or run with a partner may forgo masks if everyone involved is comfortable with the level of risk, Pollitt says. In this situation, Marr suggests running side by side with some distance between you and the other person.
“If one person is following the other, then the person behind could breathe a lot of the exhaled breath of the person before,” says Marr. “This is the situation you want to avoid.”
Do I have to wear my mask to practice outdoor sports?
The decision to wear a mask while playing sports outdoors will depend on how much contact you have with other players.
“If you are able to maintain an extended distance, the mask, especially for people who have been vaccinated, is less important,” Pollitt says.
You probably don’t need to wear a mask during non-contact sports such as tennis or golf, but a basketball game is a different situation, experts say. During a basketball game, “people can be really close to each other and you breathe hard,” says Marr. So, unless everyone is vaccinated, masks should be worn.
Should I wear my mask during an outdoor game or concert?
Large crowds are risky, even outside, says Sax.
If you are watching a game or attending a concert, you will likely be surrounded by many other people for an extended period of time and should wear a mask. Keep in mind that people at games and concerts are usually shouting or clapping loudly, Marr says, actions that can forcefully expel larger amounts of potentially infectious particles into the air.
Guests at outdoor weddings should also consider remaining masked unless they can be seated at a safe distance, Marr says.
How long will we have to wear masks?
As the pandemic continues to evolve, experts stress that masking recommendations will change. In the meantime, it’s important to understand that being outdoors and without a mask can be safe, says Sax.
“We’re never going to get to a safe place,” Sax says. “But I think if we focused on the riskier situations and backtracked on safer environments a bit, it would actually give people more confidence in public health messages.”