Do we still have to wear masks outside?

Taking your dog for a walk, cycling, walking a path, or having a picnic with members of your household or vaccinated friends are all activities where the risk of exposure to viruses is negligible. In situations like this, you can keep a mask in your pocket, in case you are in a crowd or need to go inside.

“I think it’s a bit too much to ask people to put on the mask when they go for a walk, jog or bike ride,” said Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland, where masking outdoors has never been necessary. “We are at a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks shouldn’t have been mandatory at all. It’s not where the infection and transmission takes place. “

‘Let me run without a mask. Mask in pocket, ”tweeted Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease physician and the medical director of the specialty pathogens division at Boston Medical Center. “Given how conservative I have been about my opinion throughout the year, this should tell you how low the risk overall is for transmission outdoors for short-term contact – and even lower after vaccination. Keep the masks on when you are standing still in a crowd and entering. “

To understand how low the risk of external transmission is, researchers in Italy used mathematical models to calculate how much time it would take to become infected outside in Milan. They envisioned a grim scenario where 10 percent of the population was infected with Covid-19. Their calculations showed that if a person were to avoid crowds, it would take an average of 31.5 days of continuous outdoor exposure to inhale a dose of virus sufficient to transmit an infection.

“The results are that this risk is negligible in the outdoors when crowding and direct contact between people is avoided,” said Daniele Contini, senior author of the study and aerosol scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Lecce, Italy.

Even with more contagious virus variants circulating, the physics of outdoor viral transmission has not changed and the risk of getting infected outdoors is still low, virus experts say. Pay attention to the infection rate in your community. As the number of cases increases, your risk of encountering an infected person increases.

Dr. Cevik notes that debates about outdoor masking and articles featuring photos of crowded beaches during the pandemic have given people the wrong impression that parks and beaches are unsafe, distracting from the much greater risks of indoor transmission. Often times, it is the indoor activities associated with outdoor fun – such as unmasked traveling in a subway or car to go for a walk, or walking into a pub after spending time on the beach – that pose the greatest risk. “People have barbecues outside, but then they spend time inside chatting in the kitchen,” said Dr. Cevik.