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BREAKING NEWS

Masks off – outdoors

Experts say transmission of COVID outside is unlikely – what does that mean for warm-weather celebrations and gatherings?

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | May 3, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control last week changed its guidelines for wearing masks outdoors amid data that states the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus outdoors is unlikely.

Joshua L. Santarpia, PhD , stated, “There is a significant amount of epidemiological data available that would suggest that outdoor transmission is unlikely. Further, there are several studies indicating that viral aerosols are likely to decay more rapidly outdoors. Together, this suggests that risk outdoors is low, and that reducing restrictions on mask wear during outdoor activities is reasonable.”

Dr. Santarpia is Associate Professor of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Research Director for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Strategic Research Institute.

Does this mean we order the larger graduation cake for open houses and parties in May? Does outdoors extend to an open garage, a screen porch, an outbuilding with an overhead door, or a party tent?

“The CDC just changed the guidelines today, and what they’re saying is that if somebody is outside, you don’t have to wear a mask. And that’s a relief for people who do a lot of outdoor activities. The ambiguity is gathering size, because a lot of people are worried about what gathering size they’re talking about,” Dr. Santarpia said.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds released an updated Public Health Proclamation Friday afternoon, which continued for 128 sections, and in Section 3, stated that organizers and hosts of gatherings in Iowa “take reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering to ensure the health of participants and member of the public, including social distancing practices, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Dept. of Public Health.”

Cases of COVID-19 are falling across the United States, with a 20% decrease in new cases per day over the past two weeks in the U.S. According to Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH of the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, “This is because vaccines are extremely effective in real-world settings.”

Dr. Gandhi said of 87 Americans fully vaccinated, there have been only 5,079 symptomatic breakthroughs, and a minute number of hospitalizations or deaths. Dr. Gandhi said among vaccinated people, gatherings can be “quite large,” depending on case rates in the local area.

“The risk to unvaccinated people is higher and depends on the case rates in your region. I would recommend that unvaccinated people in crowds or packed situations put on their masks,” Dr. Gandhi said.

Dr. Santarpia said the CDC’s recommendation is “pretty vague…and requires people to make their own risk assessment.”

He continued, “There’s not a clear line, and no answer will be without risk, so it’s up to the individual to make the best decision they can.”

Dr. Gandhi said unvaccinated people or partly vaccinated people who attend crowded outdoor events should mask until case rates are lower than five per 100,000 in the region of the event.

Emmet County currently has 80 active cases, a number that has declined steadily since a bump to 112 the second week of April. However, the number is still far higher than the low of 28 seen March 2.