We can all enjoy a sigh of relief that Connecticut is slowly opening up businesses and parks again. To sustain our good fortune, we need to remain vigilant lest we become like countries around the world that had to reclose their societies. I am sure we are up to the task, but there is confusion about the need for masks when outdoors.
Many, including some legislators, believe masks are only required for indoor venues. However, the state’s website clearly states: “When in public and a six-foot distance is unavoidable, face coverings are required to be worn.” Does this include outdoor spaces: a beach, a park, a passerby on the street or a crowd waiting for a traffic light to change? Yes.
This is clarified by the published rules for opening outdoor museums and zoos: “Customers are required to bring and wear masks or cloth face covering that completely covers the nose and mouth.” Some regard this as an infringement of personal freedom. And yet we follow laws that prevent us from falsely crying “fire” in a crowded theater, driving on the left side of the road, or violent behavior. A loosely worn mask is easily raised to cover mouth and nose when you find yourself in a crowd.
Executive orders have the force of law, but instead, let’s come together to look out for one another. After all, my mask protects you, not me. Would you extend the same courtesy of protecting me?
The virus-containing droplets that we all emit by simply speaking spread to cover your neighbor’s entire body. Touch your clothing and then your face and the virus makes its way to the wet membranes (eyes, mouth, nose) of your face. Because this virus is so virulent, it doesn’t take much to infect you. This is why clinicians who treat infectious patients wear head to toe protective equipment: hair coverings, masks, face shields, gloves and full length, long sleeve gowns. We can avoid that burden if we all wear masks. The mask you wear traps these droplets at the source before they spread to your neighbor.
Another misconception is that this disease severely affects only the elderly or those with diabetes or heart disease. Clinicians are slowly learning the different ways the disease manifests in different age groups. Infants can present with toes that look like frostbite. Children can present with a Kawasaki-like disease. Young adults can present with blood clots that cause stroke, lung, heart, and kidney disease. How many COVID-19 cases have been misidentified as a different disease?
People with mild or unapparent disease carry the virus and can affect others. Many of us live with or care for elderly relatives or with people with diabetes or heart disease. Wearing masks is minimally effective at protecting us, but they are very effective at the reducing the physical harm we might cause others. For the sake of us all, please wear a mask, even when you are outdoors!
Lawrence Rizzolo of Guilford is a Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. The opinion expressed here is his own and does not represent the opinion of Yale University.