If You Live Here, You Have to Wear a Mask Outside—Even If You're Vaccinated
Officials cite the rapid spread of the Delta variant as the reason masks are necessary outdoors.
As the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc on the U.S., officials across the country are getting increasingly concerned about the threat it poses. A couple of months ago, when COVID cases had dropped significantly—and vaccine rates were soaring—many states with mask mandates quickly abandoned them. However, with the Delta variant circulating everywhere, face masks are back in fashion again. A handful of states now have mask mandates for indoor spaces, including some that ask vaccinated people to mask up as well. But Oregon just became the first to introduce a new statewide mask mandate that applies to public outdoor spaces.
According to U.S. News & World Report, many states currently adhere to mask mandates, with Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington enforcing mask requirements for all residents. Other states—including California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York—only have a mask mandate in place for unvaccinated people. Now, Oregon is taking its mask mandate one step further by extending it to outdoor spaces.
On Aug. 24, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced new statewide mask requirements that will be effective starting Aug. 27. As of that date, masks will be required "in most public outdoor settings, including large outdoor events, where physical distancing is not possible, and regardless of vaccination status," per the governor's statement.
The new mandate will require masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, "in outdoor settings in which individuals from different households are unable to consistently maintain physical distance." However, "the rule does not apply to fleeting encounters, such as two individuals walking by one another on a trail or in a park." The statement notes that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) also "strongly recommends masking for outdoor gatherings at private residences when individuals from different households do not consistently maintain physical distance."
Brown cited the Delta variant as a large part of the reason why the outdoor mask mandate is being put in place. "The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high," she wrote in the statement. "Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19."
Brown explained that since the Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of COVID, it's led to a significant increase in the amount of virus spreading throughout the community. "Masks have proven to be effective at bringing case counts down, and are a necessary measure right now, even in some outdoor settings, to help fight COVID and protect one another," she continued.
State health officer Dean Sidelinger, MD, explained that the Delta variant is more contagious because those infected with this strain have much more virus in their nose. He also noted that the new mandate comes after cases have formed in clusters following outdoor events, such as music festivals. "Wearing masks in crowded settings—even outdoors—will help slow the spread of COVID-19," Sidelinger said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't currently advise that wearing a mask in outdoor settings is necessary. However, the agency does note that people should consider wearing a mask outside in areas with significant COVID spread or during activities where they will come in contact with unvaccinated people.
Virginia Tech aerosol expert Linsey Marr, PhD, told NPR that the virus has a hard time accumulating in the air outdoors enough to infect people often. "It's like putting a drop of dye into the ocean. You know, if you happen to be right next to it, then maybe you'll get a whiff of it. But it's going to become diluted rapidly into the huge atmosphere," she explained.
However, in the wake of the Delta variant, many consider taking the extra precaution to be a welcome sacrifice. "Erring on the side of caution doesn't hurt anybody," Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told NPR. "And wearing masks does not deny the effectiveness of these vaccines."