Por qué una ley que obligue a usar mascarillas al aire libre puede ser contraproducente

Why a Law on Wearing Facemasks Outdoors May Be Counterproductive

13.7.2020
Photo: Thomas de Luze / Unsplash - Lady on a bike having a rest to observe her surroundings

We are living a health crisis with enormous consequences. Reducing the transmission (risk) of COVID19 is extremely important. Prevention measures such as hand hygiene and physical distancing are essential and should be thoroughly applied.

The use of face masks is important in indoor public spaces, and when meeting with larger groups indoors in private places

The general consensus is that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is highest indoors, while the risk of transmission outdoors is very low. Also, people generally spend only a short part of their time outdoors close to other people, if at all. In fact, around 90 % of our time is spent indoors. Therefore, the use of face masks is important in indoor public spaces, and when meeting with larger groups indoors in private places.

The recent introduction of a law requiring people to wear a facemask outdoors regardless of the distance, not only is not based on any robust scientific evidence, but it may be unnecessary and may generate fear or a false sense of security. It could even be counterproductive, as it may encourage people to meet indoors, where the risk of transmission is highest.


Keep in mind that masks are not made to be worn for a long time. (Marco Testi / Unsplash)

Many people find masks uncomfortable and inconvenient to wear, particularly in hot weather. Keep in mind that they are not made to be worn for a long time. Furthermore, the law may lead to civil disobedience, lack of trust in decision-makers (arbitrary decisions) and unnecessary fines. Do we really want the valuable time of the police spent on fining people for not wearing a mask, when there are many other criminal offenses to solve?

It is important to focus efforts on more effective measures such as creating more public spaces so that people can keep physical distances

On the other hand, imposing a law that you know many people will break by not wearing the mask, wearing it incorrectly, or only sometimes (look around to see how frequent this is) is poor policymaking. Furthermore, the law creates conflicting situations; if you walk past a terrace without a mask you can get fined, but if you sit down at terrace without a mask you cannot get fined, even though the transmission risk may be greater, as you may be in closer contact with others.

And why would you need to wear a mask when you walk in a park or in the mountains, enjoying nature with no one else near you? The outdoors is there for us to enjoy. Public spaces are very important: they allow for people to get physical activity while walking, relate with other people, feel part of a community and enjoy green and blue spaces, all-important for health. Anything that discourages their use should be very well justified.

There are nearly 3,000 premature annual deaths in Barcelona alone due to high levels of air pollution and noise, heat island effects, and lack of green space and physical activity

It is important to focus efforts on more effective measures such as creating more public spaces so that people can keep physical distances, reduce air pollution levels to reduce the susceptibility to the virus, reduce the risk of indoors transmission, for example by improving their ventilation, and encourage further physical distancing and hygiene measures through education and advocacy.

Particularly, the first two measures have additional health benefits, since we know that there are nearly 3,000 premature annual deaths in Barcelona alone due to high levels of air pollution and noise, heat island effects, and lack of green space and physical activity.


Public spaces are very important: they allow for people to get physical activity while walking. (Kate Trifo / Unsplash)

COVID-19 will stay with us for the coming years and it is important to keep the transmission risk down with effective and well-supported measures. Poorly thought-out decisions are not going to help anyone and could be counterproductive. Just because you can do it, does not mean you have to do it. We should focus on measures that will truly make a difference.