3 Times a Mask Isn’t Required & 10 Times It Always Is

Do you really need to wear one when driving?

By Erin Hays
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Tips for Wearing Face Masks in the Summer Heat (1:26)

July 15, 2020 — 9:30 a.m. EST

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By now, most people know to wear masks in public spaces. If you’re like me, you’ve even had to make mental notes time and time again to not forget one when leaving the house. But do you really have to wear a mask all the time? Are there times when a mask isn’t required? The answer depends, but more often than not you should wear one to lower the risk of yourself and others catching COVID-19. Masks have been a source of confusion, and contention, for many. There are many differing opinions floating out there about when (and when not) to wear a mask. We want to set the record straight on why it’s important to wear a mask and when exactly you should be wearing one.

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First, let's discuss if masks are actually effective. The answer: YES! A recent study published in Health Affairs looks at the growth rate of novel coronavirus cases after mask mandates were put in place (in comparison to when there was no requirement for masks). The mask mandate led to a reduction in the COVID-19 growth rate that only got more pronounced with time. The growth rate decreased by 0.9% five days after the mandate and decreased even further, 2%, just a few weeks after the mandate. While these may seem like small numbers, this actually translates to stopping 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 new cases. These numbers are only from May, since then the number has likely gone up and improved for the better.

Now that we know masks actually help to prevent the spread of COVID-19, when should we wear them?

Do I Need to Wear a Mask While Driving?

It depends on who else is in the car with you. If you are alone or with other people you live with, then no. In these situations, you are only interacting with those whom you have spent large amounts of time with — in these situations, think of the car as an extension of your living space.

However, if you are driving or riding in a taxi or rideshare vehicle, it’s a good idea to mask up. In this situation, you are in close contact with a person or people you don’t normally interact with, which is the perfect breeding ground for the virus to spread. This rule also applies to having other people (friends or family members) in your car whom you haven’t been isolated with. While this isn’t recommended to begin with, if you find yourself needing to share car space, wear a mask and suggest the other passengers do the same.

There are certain situations in which you should wear a mask even when you are alone in a car. Picking up food from a drive through or curbside pickup may put you in close proximity with people you are not usually around, which carries the same risks as riding in the car with them. Pop your mask on for the brief interaction and you can feel good about keeping yourself and others safe.

Should I Wear a Mask When Going Out to Eat?

With more and more restaurants opening, it’s understandable why this question is on your mind. It is important to research a restaurant before choosing to dine there. Make sure the business is taking the proper precautions such as spacing out tables and requiring masks for staff. Crowded restaurants with diners sitting close to one another are really effective at transmitting COVID-19, so mask or not, you’ll want to avoid those all together.

Obviously if you do go out to eat, you cannot wear a mask while physically eating. This is why it’s important to dine out with only those you’ve been around during quarantine. It’s hard to maintain proper social distancing at a small table. Durland Fish, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health told TODAY that people should store their mask in a clean plastic or paper bag while eating. This is actually safer than putting your mask back on between bites and/or courses as doing so may actually increase the risk of spreading the virus from your mask to your hand.

If you need to use the restroom during your meal, be sure to wear your mask into the bathroom. According to the Inquirer, community bathrooms are the triple threat of COVID-19 due to shared spaces, poor ventilation, and floating aerosols. Keep yourself safe by not only wearing a mask but also by practicing social distancing and washing your hands thoroughly.

What About a Mask While Exercising?

If you are able to exercise outside in a non-crowded area and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others, then you can skip the mask. In general, being outside for any activity, whether it be eating or running, reduces your chances of catching or spreading the virus when compared to these same activities indoors. Sunlight, rain, humidity, and temperature can dampen virus infectivity and transmission. This changes if you are constantly passing others on the trail while running or exercising inside at a gym. In those cases, proximity and less ventilation increase your risk, so it’s better to wear a mask.

5 Other Places to “Mask Up” 

Make sure you’re wearing a mask when you are:

  • Inside a grocery store, retail store, pharmacy, or other indoor business
  • While pumping gas
  • At the doctor or dentist
  • When getting a haircut or manicure
  • On any method of public transportation, even if it’s not crowded
  • When visiting a friend or family member (if you can’t keep 6 feet apart)

A good rule of thumb — when you are going to be in close proximity to those you do not live with, wear a mask. And if you aren’t sure if you should be wearing a mask to something, it probably means you should be. Wearing a mask can literally save someone’s life. And if someone else wears a mask, it could be the act that saves yours.

All opinions are solely those of the author. 

Related: 

Face Masks In the Summer: How to Stay Cool & Safe In the Heat

Is COVID-19 Airborne? Everything You Need to Know About Possible Spread

Safe Summer 2020 Activities You Can Still Do This Season

Article written by Erin Hays