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The Case for Removing Our Masks When Outside

Multiple writers say it's time
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2021 1:12 PM CDT

(Newser) – Israel, which leads the world in COVID vaccination rates, dropped its rule requiring people to wear masks outdoors on Sunday, reports Reuters. In the US, the rule remains in place throughout much of the country, though there appears to be a growing sentiment to do away with it. Witness three op-ed pieces by writers who are unanimous in their support for indoor masking and all the usual safety protocols, but all of whom think it's high time to relax the outdoor rules (plus a fourth opinion piece on a related note):

  • Masks are extremely effective in warding off COVID, writes Derek Thompson in the Atlantic. But to him, the evidence seems clear that while masks are essential in poorly ventilated indoor locations, the need for them outdoors is close to nil. "As more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world," writes Thompson. "Ending outdoor mask mandates—or at the very least telling people when they can expect outdoor mask mandates to lift—is a good place to start, for a few reasons."

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  • In the New Republic, Natalie Shure takes note of the argument that wearing a mask outdoors builds a sense of solidarity. "But the purpose of mask-wearing isn't to send a message," writes Shure. "If it were, we could just iron whatever slogan we wanted to onto a T-shirt. The point of mask-wearing is to reduce infection, and there is simply no reason to believe that wearing a mask while walking to the grocery store accomplishes this, whether or not someone might pass you on the way."
  • At Slate, Shannon Palus agrees with all of the above and argues that unnecessary outdoor mask rules might do more harm than good. "Being overly vigilant about masks when they are not important makes it more difficult to keep wearing them when they are," writes Palus. "Also, I fear that it is making us look a little ridiculous."
  • The last entry isn't specific to outdoor masks, but David Leonhardt of the New York Times makes a point about people with "irrational" fears about the virus by borrowing an anecdote a Yale law professor shares with his students each year: If a god offered society a magic invention that would improve life immeasurably but cost 1,000 young lives, many would reject the deal as too costly. And yet, we embrace the automobile. Leonhardt draws a parallel between that example and people obsessing over COVID fears even though vaccination all but eliminates one's risk of serious disease. "We're not going to get to a place of zero risk," says a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist. "I don’t think that’s the right metric for feeling like things are normal."
(Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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