Last month, the Ontario government announced an end to mask mandates. Some businesses and institutions haven’t lifted them yet (the law does not require establishments to lift them) but in most public places, you’ll no longer be required to wear a mask.
In removing these restrictions, the government has effectively made masking an individual choice — a move that some find controversial. However, the risk of COVID at both a population level and among vaccinated individuals is now much lower now than it was one or two years ago.
As an overarching rule, health experts point to smoking as a way to approximate current risk in various settings. If the people nearby were smoking and you would expect to be able to smell or breathe in smoke, there’s a stronger likelihood of transmission. Community case counts are also a factor, so it’s best to listen to the local news to find out if cases are surging in your area. Low case counts and high vaccination rates might mean that even traditionally higher risk settings may not be especially high risk.
Also bear in mind that if you are vaccinated — a full regiment means three doses — your risk of contracting the virus is low and your risk of serious illness is even lower. But if you’re unvaccinated, your risk of suffering a serious outcome can be as much as 68 times higher.
But we also understand that some people are still wary. Masks are still a good idea. Here are a few points for determining your comfort level going maskless.
There is little evidence that the virus that causes COVID transmits effectively outdoors. There can still be some risk in dense groups (maybe steer clear of concert mosh pits, especially if you’re not fully vaccinated) but otherwise, the utility of masks outdoors is limited.
Verdict: You probably don’t need a mask.
It’s tough to offer a single answer because it depends on the size of the building, the height of the ceilings, the ventilation, and your proximity to other patrons and employees.
If it’s a superstore, and you’re able to spread out from other shoppers, your risk is relatively low. If you can keep your distance while waiting in line that would be best as well. If you can’t, and especially if cases are on the rise in the community, consider a mask.
Verdict: If space is tight and cases are high, mask up; otherwise your risk is low.
Physical activity increases the aerosols you exhale, which means if you have the virus, your pushing more of it into the air when you’re breathing heavily. However, according to the New York Times, gyms are very well ventilated (if they weren’t, they wouldn’t smell very good) which means you can stay safe at the gym if the space is large and you’re considerate.
Now that it’s getting warmer, outdoor workouts are ideal, but inside there are a few precautions you can take to minimize risk. If you’re a runner, leave one treadmill space between you and the next person, and maintain physical distancing with others in the gym. Maybe steer clear of spin or yoga classes if they’re in smaller studios.
Verdict: Large gym, less crowded, low community case counts, lower risk, even without a mask.
Transit & Travel
In addition to the size of the space and the number of people in it, it also matters how long you’re in the space and who you’re in it with. Driving in a car with family members you live with (even maskless you’re probably safe) is a different risk profile than a crowded 45-minute subway ride (best to mask up).
It gets more complicated when you consider air travel. On account of density and ventilation, airplanes can be higher risk settings, and the length of flights means a lot of people are going to be adjusting or removing the mask to eat or drink. But wearing one in between can help lower your risk.
Verdict: For now, on transit, in a plane, or in a cab/Uber, mask up.
Higher Risk Settings
This means hospitals and old folks’ homes primarily. Here you’re in proximity to people who are at higher risk, which means that masking at this point in the pandemic is still the prudent thing to do, less so for you than for them.
Verdict: Unless instructed otherwise, mask up.
At Ethisan, we’re answering your pandemic-related questions about vaccines, the virus, and hand hygiene. Our sanitizers are made from seven ingredients or fewer and are plant-based, eco-friendly and Canadian made. Browse our products to learn more.