The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into whether people should continue to wear masks outdoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the agency’s boss said Thursday.
“This is a question that we’re looking at,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on the “Today” show when asked whether people still need to mask up outside when they’re not close to others.Walensky noted that the US is still grappling with high numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
“One of the things I think that’s really important to understand is while there’s wonderful news and we’re getting more and more people vaccinated every single day, we still had 57,000 cases of COVID yesterday, we still had 733 deaths,” she said.
“And so now we are really trying to scale up vaccination, we have this complex message that we still have hot spots in this country … We will be looking at the outdoor masking question, but it’s also in the context of the fact that we still have people who are dying of COVID,” she said.
But “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie pressed her on “what’s the incentive” to get a COVID-19 shot if guidance for vaccinated people says to wear a mask outdoors.
“I mean isn’t part of this sort of a reward thing where, ‘Do the right thing, and you’ll be rewarded’? Do you balance that at all when you’re making these decisions about the guidance that you give?” she asked.
Walenksy replied, “We absolutely do. And as we look … to revive the guidance of what you can do when you’re vaccinated, that will be easier and easier to do as more and more people get vaccinated.”
The question of wearing masks outdoors has become a hot-button issue in recent days, with vaccines now available to all adults across the US and many experts saying the risks of transmitting the virus in the open air are low.
“The results are that this risk is negligible in outdoor air if crowds and direct contact among people are avoided,” Daniele Contini, an aerosol scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Italy who studied the risks, told the New York Times this week.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told NPR this week that it is “really, really uncommon for the virus to spread” outdoors.
“I think it’s critically important that we keep indoor mask mandates in for a while. We can’t give up on those, not while infection numbers are high. But it also means telling people what they can relax on,” he told the outlet.
“And wearing masks outside, again, unless you’re in a very, very crowded space for extended periods of time, probably doesn’t do much to protect you or protect others.”