As the nation passes President Joe Biden’s ambitious goal of 200 million vaccinations in his first hundred days in office with more than a week to spare, and as the “dark winter” the president forewarned gives way to summer, more and more vaccinated Americans are itching to get back to some imitation of normalcy. And for many of them, “normal” looks like being able to go outside without wearing a mask.
But despite a growing scientific consensus that the risk of infection outdoors is negligible in most realistic settings, the White House’s COVID-19 task force has remained publicly adamant that the public keep wearing masks outside—at least for now.
“Let’s get to the 100 days,” Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior advisor for COVID-19 response, told reporters on Monday when asked whether the president’s call for 100 days of mask-wearing might be reconsidered anytime soon. “You know one thing about President Biden: He follows the science, he listens to his scientists, and we’ve got 12 more days to go until we get there. So please mask up, everybody, because it does save lives.”
At this point, nearly all of us have thought it. It’s first thing in the morning or late in the evening. After a brutal winter and an unending March 2020, you’re enjoying a break from the inside of your home by taking a stroll outside, enjoying the increasingly tempting spring weather by walking your dog or sipping a “walktail.” Slowly, you realize two things: there’s hardly a person in sight, much less within six feet of you, and that you’re still, somehow, wearing a mask.
Twenty-six states require people to wear masks in public to one degree or another, as well as the District of Columbia, where the National Park Service has recently erected all-caps signs in public parks tut-tutting residents for gathering outside without masking up. But the public health consensus has shifted around how and where a person is most likely to contract the not-so-novel coronavirus—the days of spraying takeout pizza boxes with Everclear are mercifully behind us—and outdoor spread is extremely unlikely.