Are masks still needed outdoors?

Are masks still needed outdoors?

In America they are already old history, in Europe many countries are abolishing them these days, and the Ministry of Health has announced the end of the obligation from next July 15th. But what does science say?

(photo: Getty Images) The US started in April, eliminating the obligation to wear an outdoor mask for citizens who have completed the vaccination cycle against Covid-19, and then abolishing it ( unless otherwise decided at the level of the individual federal states) for all travelers who find themselves stopping or transiting in open areas. Now, with cases in free fall for several weeks now, Europe too seems ready to take the plunge. In France on June 15 came the surprise announcement of Prime Minister Jean Castex, who abolished the obligation to wear a mask outdoors and announced the early end of the curfew. In Germany, the health minister has publicly announced that he now considers the obligation to wear a mask useless, except indoors and in situations where it is impossible to avoid gatherings. The position of Spain, Denmark (which has already eliminated many restrictions in recent weeks), and also of our country is similar: yesterday the announcement of our Ministry of Health, which with much more caution than neighbors informally fixed the next July 15, the date on which outdoor masks will cease to be mandatory, except in risky situations. Understandable cautions, or overkill? Impossible to say, at least on a scientific level, because there are very few studies available on the subject and they do not provide definitive answers.

To make a point is an editorial published by the British Medical Journal last April 28, in which two groups of experts were asked to have their say on the effectiveness of outdoor masks. In favor of the obligation, we find mainly studies cited that highlight the greater propensity to comply with the anti Covid-19 regulations in countries where the use of masks has also been made mandatory in the open air. One of the most studied cases is that of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual gathering of motorcyclists held every year in South Dakota, and which last summer saw a dramatic outbreak of Covid-19. A study that analyzed the spread of the virus in the weeks following the rally concluded that the greatest influx of new cases linked to the South Dakota outbreak occurred in US states where at the time the authorities had placed less emphasis on the use of masks. To demonstrate that, even if the outdoor masks did not have an appreciable effect on the reduction of infections per se, they help to push the population to comply with the prevention measures, and this indirectly translates into a lower circulation of the Sars virus -Cov-2. Similar results also come from other researches, which have shown, for example, that there is a correlation between the obligation of a mask and the impact of the pandemic on the population, and that the states that have imposed the use of outdoor masks earlier have also seen acceptance. the other prevention rules, such as distancing, hand washing, and so on, are faster.

Alongside these considerations, it is also necessary to evaluate the actual risks of contagion that we run outdoors. The available data show that the chances of infection in the open air are 4 to 20 times lower than what happens indoors. At the same time, only 10% of the infections of which the chain of contagion is known occurred outdoors, and in the known cases it is almost always prolonged interactions, and not a fleeting greeting or a contagion that occurred from simple contact with a passer-by. . Furthermore, none of the known superspre a ding events has ever occurred in an event that took place solely outdoors: even in the case of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the available analyzes point to closed places, such as bars and restaurants, as the main outbreaks of contagion. br>
What does all this tell us? That outdoor infections are possible, but very rare even in periods when the virus is circulating out of control, and they probably become almost non-existent when the epidemic slows down, vaccinations begin to be widespread and the summer heat plays its part. Taking off your masks would therefore have a predominantly symbolic value, which can be considered positive or negative, based on your personal beliefs: a symbol of returning to normalcy, or rather a dangerous free all that could make you forget the cautions indoors and in others dangerous situations. However, it must be said that the change discussed by the Ministry of Health for the next 15 July is also difficult to interpret, because the rumors speak of an abandonment of the masks in conditions in which it is possible to guarantee compliance with safety distances, a rule that (although is given to understand in the tangle of Dpcm of the last year) does not seem substantially different from the one currently in force.

We will clearly have to deal with another aspect of the masks: the social one. This is not a completely painless measure (because masks have a cost, albeit low, and are a growing source of pollution), but many citizens still see them as a reassuring element, and have difficulty accepting a return, however much slow, to pre-pandemic normalcy. Exemplary is the case of an article published in the blog of the New England Journal of Medicine in April, in which the expert on infectious diseases Paul Sax argued in favor of the abolition of the obligation to use masks outdoors. An opinion that sparked a heated debate among readers, in which the most proud defenders of the need to wear masks outdoors seemed to be the layman.

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