When should I wear a mask outside?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to wear your mask outdoors or to know when you need to wear your mask outdoors.  COVID-19 mainly spreads person-to-person through droplets that spread when people speak, cough, or exhale while exercising. Outdoor air circulation helps to disperse any droplets and the novel coronavirus is also sensitive to sunlight, high temperatures and humidity all of which may contribute to lower risk of outdoor spread.

You should wear a mask outside if:  

  • There is a local mask ordinance.
  • You cannot maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people. As a rule of thumb, you should be at least two arm lengths away from other people to maintain this distance. More space is always better.
  • You are in a location with a large number of people. The more people in the area, the higher the chance is that someone will be infected. Also people talk more loudly in crowded areas which is more likely to spread droplets.
  • You are passing close to others on sidewalks or trails particularly while exercising. Even if you are going to be passing quickly or only close for a short period of time, it is still important to wear a mask.  Although close contact for short periods of time is lower risk, that does not mean that it is zero risk so it’s best to wear your mask.  

You should bring a mask with you every time you leave your home, but you can leave your mask off if:

  • You are in a non crowded location where distancing is possible. 
  • If you are exercising and are not near other people. .   
  • You are eating or drinking.  You can remove your mask while eating or drinking outdoors, but you should replace it as soon as you are done and wear it when speaking to your server.

If you are going to go indoors at any point even just to use a public restroom, put a mask on.  Wearing a mask, keeping physical distance, avoiding large crowds, and staying outdoors will all help to reduce your risk. Remember people, place, time, and space each time you go out.

Last update: October 13, 2020 7:00 pm ET
Science review: AGB, GSN