To mask or not to mask outdoors, that is the question. A little less than a month ago, the National Parks Service answered in the affirmative.
“Face Masks are now required in all NPS buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks and historic homes,” said a National Parks News release on Feb. 2.
While there is a caveat regarding certain circumstances, National Park attendees are still required to wear masks outdoors. Does the data truly support such a ruling?
Silas Johnson of the Biology Department agrees that wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of the disease.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV‑2. SARS-CoV‑2 is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosols dispersed from an infected individual’s mouth and nose,” said Johnson in an email.
According to Johnson, the spread of the virus generally increases during months of colder weather for two primary reasons. The first is that the chances of transmission increase the more time people spend indoors near one another.
“Second, the dryer air allows virus-containing droplets and aerosols to stay in the air for longer periods of time and travel longer distances, thereby also increasing the chances of transmission,” he said.
Johnson recommended that masks be worn in all outdoor public spaces if there is a chance an individual can come into contact less than six feet with another person.
He cited a recent article by John Brooks and Jay Butler in the JAMA Network published on Feb. 10, which compiled studies about the effects of mask-wearing from places all around the world. In the study, it found using masks, regardless of the population size, greatly decreased the risk of infection — in some cases even by 70% or more.
While the National Parks have adopted a plan for outdoor mask use, the official policy for mandatory masks inside of buildings at Hillsdale — in conjunction with vaccinations for faculty and staff — , has managed to keep infection numbers relatively low.
As of Feb. 22, more than 400 individual students have been tested this semester for COVID-19, and 39 have tested positive, with 36 recovered according to an email from the Student Activities Office.
“The research is pretty clear that Covid spread occurs in packed indoor settings with prolonged exposure,” said senior Math and English major Jonathan Meckel, “We just haven’t seen a lot of cases resulting from events outdoors.”
“I don’t think masking outside will change the course of the disease to any significant degree.
Perhaps if COVID-19 cases begin to spike again, there may warrant more stringent mask-wearing measures, but for now, Hillsdale’s current policy seems to be very effective