Do We Really Need To Wear Our Masks Outside?


Getting outside and breathing in the fresh air is something that has saved a lot of people this past year. Myself included. I absolutely love plugging into a podcast or favorite music and going for a walk or a run.

When I hit the streets near my house (I live in a very rural area) I never see any other walkers or runners — just a few cars going to work — and I have not been wearing a mask.

However, when I go to public trails, or busier streets to run, there are times I pass quite a few people and I bring my mask to put on when I’m passing them since there’s not always room to social distance.

Although there are signs up in outdoor public places stating you are still required to wear a mask, only about half the people do.

Yes, many people are getting vaccinated, and experts say the chances of catching the virus are lower when you are outside. However, as the weather heats up and more people are getting out of the house to air out their shorts, outdoor places can get a bit more congested. We aren’t in the clear yet and the most important thing is to keep yourself, and others, safe.

Since the word on the street has always been it’s safer to be outside, this question about whether to mask or not to mask can leave people confused.

So the question is, if we are outside do we still need to be covering our faces? The answer is yes and no, as it depends on your surroundings – and your vaccination status.

Linsey Marr, one of the world’s leading experts on viral transmission, says if you are outside and staying six feet away from everyone, it’s okay to take off the mask. As Marr told New York Times, “Viral particles quickly disperse in outdoor air, and the risk of inhaling aerosolized virus from a jogger or passers-by is negligible.”

While browsing shops on a crowded sidewalk, even if you are only passing people and not stopping to talk to them, you still need a mask. If you are attending an outdoor concert or browsing a farmers’ market, you need to wear a mask.

But if you are hiking on trails and not passing many people, it’s fine to keep the mask off as long as you keep your distance of six feet or more. If you aren’t distancing — even if you are outside — you need to keep the mask on at all times.

The CDC recently released updated guidance on outside mask wearing for fully vaccinated people. Here’s the gist: If you are fully vaccinated, health officials say you may skip the mask while outside if you are alone or with members of your household. “You can gather or conduct activities outdoors without wearing a mask,” say the most recent guidelines on the CDC website, “except in certain crowded areas or venues.”

Keep in mind that “fully vaccinated” means it’s been two weeks since your second dose in a two-dose series of shots (such as Pfizer or Moderna), or since your one-dose vaccine (such as Johnson & Johnson). Until those criteria are met, the CDC says you should continue to take precautions.

Also, certain states — and even cities within those states — have their own independent mask mandates and restrictions that you’ll need to follow; you can find the updated guidelines for all 50 states here.

As more people become vaccinated, and the numbers of COVID-19 cases drop, these rules may change, but it’s important we follow them now so that we may get to a point where we don’t need masks. However, we aren’t going to get there if people think they are free and clear and go without them until we are told it’s safe to stop wearing them.

Of course, the answer is always “yes” when it comes to wearing a mask indoors since the virus is more contagious in enclosed areas. Even if you are distancing, or walk into a restaurant to get a takeout order and no one is there, you shouldn’t remove your mask.

The Huffington Post reports, “COVID-19 is airborne, meaning the virus can travel when an infected person expels smaller droplets and they remain suspended in the air (sometimes for several hours). This type of transmission is even more likely in indoor settings because of the lack of ventilation and air movement.”

If we all stay on the mask train and listen to the CDC guidelines, and watch for updates, wearing a mask all the time will become a thing of the past. But if we try and rush it, we are never going to get there.

Yes, it’s not fun to wear a mask outside. But if you can’t keep your distance, keep it on.