Mid-April has marked the arrival of two major milestones for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the U.S.: As of Apr. 18, more than half of all adults have received at least one dose, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, and all adults are now eligible to be vaccinated nationwide as of Apr. 19. This massive progress has revived the question of how much longer public safety measures that have been in place since the early days of the pandemic will have to stay in effect. During an appearance on CNN, Ashish Jha, MD, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, said that major changes might be coming soon, including not having to wear a mask when you do this one thing. Read on to learn when and where you may be able to roam mask-free, and for more on how to keep yourself safe, The CDC Says If You See This at a Restaurant, Don't Go Inside.
Outdoor mask mandates will likely go away soon for most areas.
While being interviewed on CNN's Inside Politics on Apr. 18, Jha explained that the risk of catching COVID is much lower when you're not in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space. He said outdoor activities can be seen "largely as a safe thing, unless you have congregations of large numbers of people together for long periods of time."
According to Jha, that means a big change could be coming. "I expect over the next few weeks states to start lifting outdoor mask mandates," he said.
And for more on where you still shouldn't go after your shots, The CDC Is Warning You to Avoid This One Place, Even If You're Vaccinated.
Research has shown that outdoor infection is exceedingly rare.
Jha pointed out that the idea of outside spaces being much safer than indoor venues has become a widely accepted fact. "We've known for a year that outdoor infections are extremely rare," he told host Abby Phillip.
Mounting research has shown that being outside can drastically reduce the chances that COVID will spread. According to data from Ireland's Health Protection Surveillance Centre that was recently shared with the Irish Times, only 262 COVID cases out of 232,164—which is about .1 percent—could be linked to "locations which are primarily associated with outdoor activities." And another April 2020 study from China found that only one instance of outdoor transmission out of 7,300 cases studied occurred when two friends held a long conversation in close quarters outside, The New Republic reports.
Risk level changes quickly when you move things inside, though. By comparison, a Japanese study published in April 2020 estimated that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was 19 times higher while indoors with others who were contagious than outdoors. And for more COVID news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
COVID can only potentially be spread outdoors at crowded events.
The only exception to the reduced risk of spreading COVID outdoors comes in the form of crowded events outside where social distancing isn't possible.
"[COVID-19 infections] only happen when you have large packed rallies, for instance," Jha explained. "So if you are not participating in one of those, I think it is pretty safe to be out and about walking around without a mask, especially in large parts of the country where infection numbers are under reasonable control." And for more on where that's not the case, check out These 9 States Are Seeing the Worst COVID Spikes Right Now.
But more people need to be vaccinated before indoor mask mandates are dropped.
The potential change in rules surrounding outdoor mask-wearing would come as more states have already decided to abandon their mask mandates outright, including requiring them in indoor public venues. According to Jha's colleague, Megan Ranney, MD, emergency physician at the Rhode Island Hospital and associate professor at Brown University, regional spikes in some areas have made it clear that indoor mask mandates should stay in place for now. She told CNN these mandates should only be removed when "around 70 percent or 80 percent" of the national adult population is vaccinated.
Ranney isn't alone in holding this opinion. During an interview with CNN in February, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, said: "When [the number of COVID cases] goes way down, and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable in saying, we need to pull back on the masks [indoors], we don't need to have masks." And for more on what the top health official is still avoiding, check out The 2 Places Dr. Fauci Still Won't Go After Vaccination.