CDC: Vaccinated people can bike outdoors without masks

Posted by on April 27th, 2021 at 9:40 am

Maskless riders on the Eastbank Esplanade Sunday, April 25th 2021.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Centers for Disease Control just released new guidelines for mask wearing outdoors that are good news for those of you who’d rather ride without one.

“Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, except in certain crowded settings and venues,” reads the guidance. And fully vaccinated people can, “Participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues.”

Mask-wearing on group bike rides and/or in crowded urban areas and multi-use paths has been relatively standard for most people for over a year now.

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The new guidance is also a step in the right direction for people who are eager to do more group rides this summer as part of events like Pedalpalooza. Of course the new guidance only applies to people who are vaccinated, and you never know if people you meet on bike rides have had the shot or not.

And you should definitely keep a mask in your pocket whether you wear it while riding or not. Because in related news, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has increased the Covid risk level of Oregon counties to “extreme” after a spike in infections. She will also end indoor dining in Multnomah County as of this coming Friday.

Have your mask-wearing-on-the-bike habits changed in the past year? Will this new guidance change anything for you? Do you have any words of wisdom for others to help them make the right choices?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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sorenMark smithXChris IClem Fandango Recent comment authors
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Guest
 

I haven’t masked while riding or running alone because the risk of transmission from just passing on the street is so ridiculously small that it’s not worth even thinking about. And it was never the CDC’s guidance to mask up outdoors when social distancing could be maintained. I obviously have masked in indoor settings and will continue to do so at least until I’m fully vaccinated.

In the long term after everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one and is two weeks post-second-dose, what I’d like to see is the following:

  • Outdoors: no need to mask, just cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough like is common courtesy.
  • Indoors: wear a mask if and only if you are feeling sick; no need to mask on an everyday basis.

Asking everyone to mask up indoors even after everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one will only contribute to vaccine hesitancy when people don’t see what getting the vaccine will change. No positive outcome can come from it. And frankly I don’t care what happens to the anti-vaxxers; they’re choosing not to get vaccinated and I won’t feel bad for them if they get covid.

John Mackelnary
Guest
John Mackelnary

Exactly. Sitting outside recently at a nearly deserted bar patio, a chatty stranger wanted to gripe at me about how “Fauci says you gotta wear masks even if you get the shot!” She seemed at best cynical about vaccination, but not outright dismissive. I wish I could have countered with some sort of solid info about what would be allowed once we were all vaccinated. I think this news will help.

What people really want is a return to normalcy. Unfortunately there is also a group of cynics on the other side of the political divide gleefully arguing that we’ll never get there, that we’re doomed. That’s not productive either, if mass vaccination is the goal. Some people really thought the pandemic would bring about the collapse of society, capitalism, etc. and usher in some sort of utopia.

drs
Guest
drs

Dude, Fauci does still say that. He was interviewed on NPR today and he said that today. He says that you don’t need to mask when you are moving around outdoors and have fleeting contact with people as you pass them. But if you are in prolonged proximity to people in social gatherings you still should wear a mask, even when outside. That is consistent with what Fauci is saying and it is consistent with CDC guidance. That chatty stranger was correct.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Correct, but sounds as if she’s come to the wrong conclusion that it is somehow unnecessary to still take precautions after vaccination.

John Mackelnary
Guest
John Mackelnary

Yeah, but the point she was trying to argue was “why bother”. Hearing that guidance WILL change once vaccinated is at least something.

We then talked about how we both had elderly family members who’d had close calls with covid…

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

“And frankly I don’t care what happens to the anti-vaxxers; they’re choosing not to get vaccinated and I won’t feel bad for them if they get covid.”

Remember herd immunity is estimated at >80% vaccinated, due to its R-value and the increased infectiousness of variants. Even people who are vaccinated are at higher risk in places with higher cases. One does not get vaccinated for themselves; they get vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

To be fair, the folks who are refusing to get the vaccine are also the ones who are mostly likely to have had Covid in the past year, or will get it at some point this year. I think we will hit herd immunity in the Portland Metro area, when you combine the vaccinated rate and the non-vacc with natural infections. Some parts of the state with very low vaccination rates will probably not get there this year, though.

Walking/biking around Portland without a mask will continue to be a very safe activity (at least as far as Covid is concerned; drivers are another issue altogether).

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

There is some evidence that antibodies from infection do not last as long as from vaccination. Also, due to the mutability of the virus, current vaccines have little effect on at least 1 verified variant, but likely more variants. We will need a bivalent booster shot in the Fall to maintain immunity. It is very difficult to predict if/when we reach herd immunity.

soren
Guest
soren

“Also, due to the mutability of the virus, current vaccines have little effect on at least 1 verified variant…”

BNT162b2 not only produces a large neutralizing ab titer but was 100% effective in prevention of severe disease in South Africa when the B.1.351 variant was prevalent. Based on neutralizing ab titer to pseudoviruses there is every expectation that the Moderna vaccine will be similarly effective. Google is your friend — I’m not doing your reading for you.

The P.1 variant has not been well-characterized due to low prevalence in areas where mRNA vaccines have been tested or used clinically.

soren
Guest
soren

I realized a few days ago that you (and others) are worried about B.1.617. There really isn’t evidence of higher rates of breakthrough and what limited data exists looks like what would be expected (given the vaccines being used in India).

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-infections-after-vaccination-7286616/

Worry about escape strains in the future is a valid concern but the most effective mitigation is the one thing that the USA and other absurdly wealthy nations refuse to do: spend a minuscule percentage of their GDP to achieve global heard immunity (with the most effective vaccines). Instead, the USA and the EU is sociopathically hoarding its “intellectual property” in the midst of a global catastrophe it could easily and cheaply help solve.

soren
Guest
soren

re-edit mistake: (and the EU)

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Asking everyone to mask up indoors even after everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one will only contribute to vaccine hesitancy when people don’t see what getting the vaccine will change.

Not requiring vaccinated to wear masks will only empower anti-science anti-vaxxers who are more than willing to lie about their vaccinated status. I’d love for that to be a case that we can drop the masks when are fully vaccinated but if you allow some people not to wear masks, the mask mandate will fall on its face endangering front line workers who will now be dealing with anti-mask + anti-vaccine bad actors.

We should only drop indoor mask mandates when we’ve stopped the spread.

And frankly I don’t care what happens to the anti-vaxxers; they’re choosing not to get vaccinated and I won’t feel bad for them if they get covid.

Remember, there are legitimate cases of people who are not, for health reasons, able to get the vaccine. My mom wants to get it but can’t under doctors orders until her treatment for a chronic condition is done. There are people who will never be able to get the vaccine. Endangering them is unacceptable.

 
Guest
 

I’m sorry your mom is unable to get it; that really sucks and I do feel bad that people like her would be stuck in a tough situation. But in all seriousness, when do you think we should lift all restrictions? We can’t just keep masking and distancing indefinitely; we’re going to have to go back to normal sometime. When do you think that should be if not after everyone who can be and wants to be vaccinated is?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I think we could tier it. Spaces that people must be able to access like grocery stores, gas stations, and government buildings should have mask mandates until public officials have determined we are at a low enough risk for community spread.

Secondary places that no one needs to go like general stores, bars, and restaurants could have more relaxed rules. I’m sure a fair amount of service industry businesses would happily monitor vaccine passports if it meant they could open full inside capacity to vaccinated folks only.

We will always have to monitor the situation and prepare to roll back. I don’t personally care if anti-vaxxers get COVID-19 either, but we do have to remember that when they do get sick, they will go to a hospital taking up precious resources and endangering our exhausted health care workers who have been dealing with this for over a year now. Another surge because we want to go party is a slap in the face to them and the hard work and dedication they’ve shown to keeping us alive.

 
Guest
 

This is the first alternative proposal I’ve seen that would not be overbearing and would actually be easily implementable. Kudos on thinking up something like this; I could definitely live with this if it goes this way.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Anyone who wants the vaccine should get it. Doctors are not guards and our routinely wrong.

Doug Smart
Guest
Doug Smart

I wear a mask for work and prefer ties rather than ear loops for all day wear. That means I mask up before putting my helmet on to ride to avoid entangled straps. I often pull my mask down then while riding. I pull it up as I get to the bike racks at work or reach other busy areas like business districts or parking lots of shops. During the colder weather I didn’t pull it down so much. That sort of up/down action supports the choice of ties over loops.

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

The CDC’s chart of safer activities shows biking, running, and walking without a mask as safe for unvaccinated people as well: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/participate-in-activities.html

drs
Guest
drs

Please note that all these activities involve moving and fleeting contact between individuals. Prolonged contact and large social gatherings such as concerts, sporting events, large groups, should still be masked.

It sounds like everyone is going to just take this as an excuse to never wear a mask outside again. It isn’t that.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Is Karen going to come back and remove the “YES MASK” graffiti from the Marine Drive path?

John Mackelnary
Guest
John Mackelnary

Perhaps Karen will help remove some of the piles of trash out there as well

John Mackelnary
Guest
John Mackelnary

I’ve only been wearing a bandana or buff when I pass large groups. Have always felt it was mostly performative, but my behavior was driven to how people in parks, etc. Reacted to a maskless rider– they’d shy away or avoid. And I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Over the last few months I’ve seen many fewer masks on Mt. Tabor pedestrians, for instance, so I stopped being as vigilant about pulling mine up, unless I couldn’t provide adequate passing distance.

As for riding in groups, I have approximately zero friends who ride other than a mile or so to a bar, so that hasn’t been a big deal… I’m always solo on longer rides.

But… this does bode well for Pedalpalooza!

PS
Guest
PS

It is unfortunate it took the CDC this long to distribute this guidance, but given the warm weather coming it is great they did. Considering the number of cases of serious illness due to being overweight or obese, it is vital that people are able to exercise unimpeded by a mask that provides no necessary protection when outdoors. Hopefully this puts an end to the virtue signaling path police, who seem to worry more about feelings than the actual science of risk.

Soren
Guest
Soren

I have never worn a mask outdoors when not in close proximity to non-household members because there was never much evidence of risk. That being said, it is my perception that a small minority of mask wearing pedestrians tend to pass non-mask wearers in an exaggerated overly-close manner (perhaps in an attempt to shame). I find this behavior to be rude regardless of its very minimal health risk. Introverts like me have always preferred social distancing.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

That being said, it is my perception that a small minority of mask wearing pedestrians tend to pass non-mask wearers in an exaggerated overly-close manner (perhaps in an attempt to shame).

I also occasionally encounter that. I walk way out in the street so no one will be near me, and they also come way out so there’s no way for me to maintain proper distance.

That kind of nonsense only provokes the antimask crowd. But this is the city that thinks that attacking the same precinct every night for months is a good idea. Meanwhile, we frequently hear gunfire and had a killing at that exact corner (literally within stone’s throw from where I live) a few weeks ago. But no one cares because they’re only into the performative BS.

drs
Guest
drs

Yes, but gathering in large groups and socializing still requires masking, even outdoors. I fear that people are going to take this directive as an excuse to never wear masks and ignore restrictions on group size that are still part of CDC and state recommendations.

As far as pedalpalooza goes, it is exactly the kind of outdoor event in which people should still be masked.

potato-man
Guest
potato-man

“Mask-wearing on group bike rides and/or in crowded urban areas and multi-use paths has been relatively standard for most people for over a year now.” I don’t know about that. The Springwater trail, only maybe 8′ wide at times, is always full of (visible) smiling faces and people more than willing to pass you shoulder-to-shoulder instead of messing with their pace.

John Mackelnary
Guest
John Mackelnary

And realistically speaking that’s fine. A momentary encounter, especially at bicycle speed and wind whipping by? Might as well be afraid to open your bedroom window, lest COVID gets in

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I mask when I’m going to be near other people. That’s never the situation while riding, so I don’t wear one on the bike.

I don’t ride in groups or on MUPs, and I cut loads of space when passing. I’ve gotten stink eye from people walking on the opposite side of the street, but at some point this really needs to be about things that actually help rather than virtue signaling like the yahoos who get upset if you don’t wave the flag and praise the military enough at every conceivable opportunity.

Aside from the fact that I cut extra passing space and now work at home, the pandemic has had no impact on my riding behavior.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Same here, Kyle. I’ve mostly avoided MUPs for the past year b/c of the stink-eye I get from people wearing masks, even though the chance of me infecting them or them infecting me is infinitesimal. Outdoor masking when you are moving fast (cycling, running, or even walking) has seemed largely performative, IMHO, but it has given people who love telling others what to do a great opportunity to showcase what they are good at.

dan
Guest
dan

So pacelines are back on the menu? Are any local clubs doing rides now? Portland Velo still seems to be on hiatus.

EX
Guest
EX

Finally some sanity. People need to use their heads and not their hearts.

This is science not “how you feel”. Uncrowded transmission outside is almost impossible, triple that once poked twice.

Michael
Guest
Michael

I’ve ridden absolutely alone for 13 months. I got fully vaccinated and went on my first maskless group ride last week. I feel some pressure to wear one for performative reasons, but I also feel like I’ve done the right thing this whole time and I just want a few hours of normalcy a week.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

This is pretty much what everyone has been doing outdoors since around last April-May anyway: mask up if you’re in a crowd or feel you are particularly vulnerable, but otherwise not.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

The new CDC guidelines are the same as North Carolina state health guidelines since April of 2020. Some people wear a mask during outdoors exercise, many don’t including myself. Our state transmission rates have generally reflected national trends both up and down, as well as our vaccination rates. If Oregon has a higher reported rate, it may because you are better at getting tested and at reporting actual transmission rates than the 12 states like NC without state medicare/medicaid for poor people.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

North Carolina’s death rate is roughly twice that of Oregon’s:
https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/public-health/us-coronavirus-deaths-by-state-july-1.html

I’m sure healthcare access and population risk factors are part of the difference, though.

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

Not much changes for me. While I carried a mask outdoors, I never had a need to wear it except in lift lines while skiing. Now that I’m fully vaccinated (thanks to a quick rollout in Colorado where I make my second home) I’ll no longer go through motions to make someone feel more comfortable outdoors. There is now an obvious right choice, and that’s to get vaccinated ASAP. After that go live a normal life and don’t worry about others any more than you worry about whether they’ve had a flu vaccine.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

How long did the cdc (and Oregon still) hold onto their no science position?

Clem Fandango
Guest
Clem Fandango

Mask wearing while riding is relatively standard? Really? I haven’t worn a mask outdoors on a bike… ever. The data has show for a year that the virus isn’t very transmissible outside, and doesn’t survive sunlight well.

And of course, why the hell would vaccinated people need masks to prevent infection in the first place?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Because the vaccines are not 100% effective? If the virus is still raging, you are still at risk (and can transmit it to others) in crowded areas (especially indoors). Your risk is significantly lower, but it is not zero.

Once we get enough people vaccinated, the numbers will drop back down to a manageable level, and we can remove all masking requirements.

X
Guest
X

Eight days after my first shot and moving in a circle of equally risk-averse people (center-left Portlanders of a certain age) I’m not too concerned about getting sick or passing on the virus.

What worries me more is the pool of people in the world who are still vulnerable to infection, some through no fault of their own. People in long-term care may be incubators of new strains because the virus is replicating in their body for months. People who can’t get vaccines (or any medical care at all) are both pathways for infection and cultures for mutation. Covid19 isn’t over, even in islands of relative safety.

We need to learn the lessons of this pandemic, what works, what is performance and what is profiteering. We have to see how our interests are linked across boundaries and political party lines. We have to figure what will be the roles of industry and government in the next pandemic.

What would make bicycling safer, or keep it safe? I’d like to see bikeways come in pairs with the understanding that people who aren’t travelling in the primary direction pull out to the verge. I’d like green streets to be thoroughly diverted so riders can safely give each other space. The people taking their young families out on sorta-safe streets may finally get Portland out of the single digits. Never waste a crisis, right?

soren
Guest
soren

“or passing on the virus”

there is still risk that vaccinated people may be unwitting asymptomatic vectors in much the same way that asymptomatic spreaders are believed to be a major cause of the lumpy distribution of transmission (overdispersion).