Should I be nervous when someone walks by without a mask?

Wearing a mask or a cloth face covering is one of many steps you can take to avoid spreading and contracting COVID-19. This infection mainly spreads via respiratory droplets in the air. Social distancing (or staying home, if possible), wearing a mask, and washing your hands are the best ways to protect yourself and those around you.

The CDC recommends that you wear a mask in public, especially if social distancing isn’t possible. But there are legitimate reasons why some people can’t wear a mask, such as difficulty breathing.

To get sick, you usually have to spend more than a few minutes with—and in close proximity to—someone who has the virus. Your chances of catching the virus go up if that person is coughing, sneezing, or singing. Prolonged, close-quarters contact like that is very different from someone briefly walking past you, especially if you’re outside. 

So if someone strolls by without a mask, the best thing to do is keep your distance. But even if you can’t, don’t stress—that fleeting encounter almost certainly will not make you sick. Keep making safe choices, and you’ll keep your overall risk low.


Last update: July 2, 2020, 1:15 pm ET

Science review: ARM, JAB