mask hanging off a person's finger outdoors

Photo: DimaBerlin (Shutterstock)

It’s a given that masks are important to wear indoors and in crowded settings, but the CDC now officially says they are not always necessary outdoors. Masking outdoors is still recommended if you are in a crowd, or if you are unvaccinated and will be near others outside your household who are also unvaccinated. But in some instances, you can now remove your masks outdoors without violating recommended health guidelines.

Here’s how the new guidelines break down.

If you are walking, jogging, or biking outdoors

If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask outdoors when, for example, you are going for a walk. If others are walking closely with you, use the CDC guidelines for visiting others to determine if you need to mask up. (If the group includes unvaccinated people from more than one household, everyone should wear masks.)

If you are not vaccinated, you should still wear a mask when walking or exercising with a group unless you are only with vaccinated people or people from your household. Again, this guidelines mirror the current recommendations for visiting others indoors.

At small outdoor gatherings

If you’re attending an outdoor gathering with others, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks. Unvaccinated people should still wear them if the gathering includes unvaccinated people from other households.

At an outdoor sporting event, live performance, or parade

In these cases, you’re in a crowd or near a lot of other people. Wear a mask, whether you are vaccinated or not. The CDC categorizes this scenario as low risk for a masked, fully vaccinated person, and higher risk (“least safe”) for an unvaccinated person, even with a mask.

Dining at an outdoor restaurant

People who are fully vaccinated can safely eat outdoors without a mask, the CDC says, even with people from multiple households. But the situation is medium-risk for people who are not fully vaccinated, so if they go, unvaccinated people should wear a mask whenever possible, and they should be aware that this scenario is not low-risk.

The CDC chart above shows the breakdown for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people in various scenarios. (Remember: If you are not yet two weeks past your final vaccine dose, you should follow the guidelines for the unvaccinated category.)

In these situations, fully vaccinated people can protect themselves by wearing a mask where appropriate—for example, when at a crowded outdoor event. In situations where masking is warranted, unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and keep 6 feet of distance from others and wash their hands.

The CDC also notes that these risk assessments assume the venue in question is following appropriate safety guidelines, and also advises that they are approximations of risk and not guarantees of safety. If your gut is telling you to wear a mask, go ahead and wear one anyway.

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