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