Viewpoint: Do we still need to wear masks outdoors? Taking face coverings off in restaurants is ‘like watching people put on seatbelts in parked cars, then unbuckling them when they drive’

Credit: Yahoo
Credit: Yahoo

One systematic overview of COVID-19 case studies concluded that the risk of transmission was 19 times higher indoors than outside. That’s why wearing a mask is so important in, say, a CVS, but less crucial in, say, the park.

At the restaurant, however, I saw an inversion of this rule. Person after person who’d dutifully worn a mask on the uncrowded street took it off to sit still, in close proximity to friends, and frequently inside. I felt like I was watching people put on their seatbelts in parked cars, then unbuckle them just as they put the vehicle in drive.

Perhaps a bit of weirdness should be expected. Rising vaccinations and burbling variants make for an awkward transition period in which it’s legitimately confusing to know when masking is… necessary.

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[O]ne could argue that outdoor mask mandates build a sense of social solidarity around taking the pandemic seriously, which might have all sorts of positive spillover effects, such as visually reminding people that the pandemic isn’t over. 

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But as more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world. Ending outdoor mask mandates — or at the very least telling people when they can expect outdoor mask mandates to lift—is a good place to start.

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