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Do we still need to wear masks outside? It depends on the situation

St. Louis infectious disease experts tell us when to have a mask handy

ST. LOUIS — It's warming up in the St. Louis area, and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has continued in the St. Louis area, which leads to a question on many people's minds: Do we still need to wear masks outside? 

We took that question to three of St. Louis' leading infectious disease physicians, and they all gave similar responses.

Dr. Aamina Akhtar is the Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Hospital South. Dr. Jason Newland is a Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Nongnooch Poowanawittayakom is the Chief of Infection Prevention Control at St. Louis University Hospital.

All three said when you can't stay a safe distance from others, it's best to wear a mask.

"It's still important to be masking when you are at outdoor activities," Dr. Akhtar said, "especially if you are not able to social distance."

"I think wearing a mask still when we are outdoors with groups of people is a good idea," Dr. Newland agreed.

"I think people should still wear masks when they are in crowded situations," Dr. Poowanawittayakom added.

So the consensus, if you're going to be around people outdoors, then wear a mask.

Dr. Newland reminds us people can still transmit and catch COVID-19 whether they are indoors or outdoors. 

When in crowds of people outside your close friends, wearing a mask does not depend on your vaccination status. 

"Right now the level of vaccination in the community is not enough to give us all herd immunity or protection," Dr. Akhtar said.

The possibility of passing COVID-19 on to one another is why doctors want people to always have a mask handy. 

"People should still have mask available in their pocket so when they encounter other people or when they go indoors they can put them on," Dr. Poowanawittayakom said.

Dr. Newland said that if you are outside doing an activity with enough social distancing you do not need to wear a mask, "but if you're sitting in the bleachers watching, put one on."