Is it safe to take off our masks when we’re outside? (Updated)

Man walking across the street with a face mask on; when will it be safe to take off masks?
Photo via Free To Use Sounds/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA)

UPDATE: On April 27, the CDC said masks no longer need to be worn by fully vaccinated people if you’re outside in a small group or if you’re exercising alone or with family members, implying that it’s safe to take off masks when you’re outside in certain situations.

As of now, the federal government is not saying you can take off your masks altogether when you’re outside.

The original story is below:

The debate over face masks has been ongoing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people are inoculated against the virus and the weather gets warmer, questions are beginning to rise about when it will be safe to take our masks off while outside.

Experts have advised consistent mask use since the start of the pandemic. Masks are more necessary in enclosed indoor spaces with less air ventilation, but to best protect against COVID-19, they should be worn whenever out and about. Experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, advise mask-wearing whenever around others, even when outdoors. 

News of Israel’s recent decision to loosen mask requirements while outdoors is prompting Americans to wonder when it will be their turn. Following the successful inoculation of approximately 80% of its population, Israel Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced face masks are no longer required while outside. The nation is still encouraging mask-wearing while indoors and in public spaces.

America is not yet ready to take the same steps, but it’s well on its way. Despite his assertion that it is not yet safe for Americans to take face masks off while outside, Fauci has noted that rising vaccinations should change risk factors in the near future. However, the small window of vulnerability in the COVID-19 vaccines—the efficacy for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95%—along with the emergence of variants make mask wearing a persisting necessity. 

Fauci told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that Americans could cease mask-wearing “when we get the level of infection in this country low enough that it is not a really high threat.” Experts estimate that at least 70% of the population will need to be fully vaccinated before the country can reach a level of herd immunity. Currently, approximately 50% of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one shot, according to NBC News. Around 32.5% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated.

As noted by the Atlantic, COVID-19 poses far more risk indoors than outdoors. The ability to socially distance, along with far better ventilation, makes outdoor gathering a far smaller risk than any indoor get-together. Despite the reduced risk, however, America may still be months away from safely being able to take our masks off outside.

After you get the vaccine, is it safe to …

Sources: Fox 6, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, NBC News

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