Is it time to lift the outdoor mask mandate? Some health experts think so

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker tightened the statewide mask mandate in November 2020, requiring people to wear masks inside and outside in public – even when no one is around.

Now, some local health experts say it’s time to abandon the outdoor mask requirement, arguing it could be sending the wrong message about how the virus is transmitted.

“People should remember the real danger for getting this virus is indoors in particular in crowed situations that are poorly ventilated and vax status unknown,” said Dr. Paul Sax, Clinical Director, Infectious Disease Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Where we want to focus on the wearing of masks, where they protect you and others, outside is very safe especially when you’re distanced from people.”

On Twitter, Brown University School of Public Health Dean, Ashish Jha, explained that outdoor transmission is extremely rare and only happens in large groups, like at big rallies.

He said it’s safe to walk around outside without a mask on.

“Outdoor infections are rare and occur when large groups gather in packed paces, such as rallies,” Jha wrote. “Outdoor mask mandates are likely to be lifted in upcoming weeks.”

In a recent blog post, Clinical Director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Paul Sax, echoed Jha’s arguments.

“Transmissions do not take place between solitary individuals going for a walk, transiently passing each other on the street, a hiking trail, or a jogging track,” Sax wrote. “That biker who whizzes by without a mask poses no danger to us, at least from a respiratory virus perspective.”

Sax went on to explain that requiring people to wear masks outdoors may cause confusion as to how COVID-19 is transmitted.

“We’ve learned so much since the terrifying days early in the pandemic,” Sax wrote. “Why not share what we’ve learned and eliminate mandates that no longer make sense?”

Both Jha and Sax said the vast majority of infections happen inside, and they do not believe indoor mask mandates should go away just yet. New Hampshire lifted its mask mandate on April 16.

Gov. Baker has not announced any plans to change his mask mandate.