Some doctors say California should reinstate outdoor mask mandate. Here's why

The California Dept. of Public Health says masking outdoors is currently recommended in crowded, high-risk settings.

ByStephanie Sierra KGO logo
Friday, August 27, 2021
Some doctors think CA should bring back outdoor mask mandate
The California Dept. of Public Health says masking outdoors is currently recommended in high-risk settings when in packed crowds or concerts.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oregon is mandating masks outdoors starting Friday after a rise in Delta-fueled infections and hospitalizations. Will California do the same?

The California Dept. of Public Health told San Francisco's KGO-TV masking outdoors is currently recommended in high-risk settings when in packed crowds or concerts.

No announcement indicating a potential outdoor mask mandate in California has been made public -- But some doctors argue wearing masks outdoors should be mandated in certain situations, not just recommended.

"I think in the setting of the Delta variant, an outdoor mask mandate is appropriate at this time," Dr. Mike Wasserman, who served on California's vaccine advisory committee. "Just because your outdoors doesn't mean that if you're standing close to someone that got the virus that you're not at risk."

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Stanford Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Anne Liu agrees mandating masks outdoors in crowded settings is important as we face highly-contagious variants like Delta.

"Respiratory droplets with the virus could potentially carry a lot more virus floating out in the air than what was happening last year when people were together outdoors," said Liu. "Until we have more data, I think it's easy enough when you're in a crowded outdoor situation to wear a mask."

Experts worried about the risk of heightened transmission following the Black Lives Matter protests that involved large unmasked crowds, but several studies determined the rallies didn't contribute to COVID-19 surges. Whether that will be the case in the age of Delta?

"We don't know," said Liu. "With Delta we don't know that to be true under the same circumstances."

UCSF Infectious Disease Physician, Dr. Monica Gandhi shares a more optimistic perspective.

"Do you think we may need an outdoor mask mandate again?" Sierra asked.

"No, I don't think we do. Indoor masking is very prudent right now, but outside is as safe as it gets," said Gandhi.

Gandhi says there was a study performed last September out of Wuhan, China that looked at 7,324 infections and found only one case transmitted outdoors.

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"Do you think it's possible any of this research would be different in the age of Delta?" said Sierra.

"We've had almost six months with Delta and there hasn't been a study that shows there's an increased link of outdoor transmission," said Gandhi.

In Oregon, health officials have said outbreaks have been tied to large outdoor events like music festivals. Would Giant's games carry a similar risk?

"Depends on your behavior," said UCSF Infectious Disease Physician, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. "If you're next to someone and you're shouting at them, coughing on them right next to you. Of course they're going to be exposed."

Dr. Chin-Hong added it's all about assessing your risk.

"Going to a Giants game packed together might be different from listening to Stevie Nicks at BottleRock if you're in a big field and you're not jumping up and down in a mosh pit," he said.

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