Mask debate: Should face coverings be worn outdoors?

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Lots of people out in public are wearing homemade face masks like the health department requested to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, others aren’t, and some of them are being shamed.

The debate over wearing face masks outdoors has popped up more as people stuck at home are now running into each other outside walking or on a busy trail. “I have people whizzing past my face constantly with no masks, and I just think – it’s not safe,” explained Kathleen Smith, who lives in Nob Hill. “It doesn’t feel safe to me.”

Kathleen Smith says while she’s been practicing social distancing and staying home, like others, she has been out walking in her Albuquerque neighborhood.

The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face mask whenever out in public, especially in places where a six-foot distance is hard to maintain.

However, when Smith raised the issue of runners and bicyclists not wearing masks to her fellow neighbors on Nextdoor, some people agreed and some didn’t.

“I imagine that running with a mask on can be pretty uncomfortable,” Smith wrote. “Perhaps, then, anyone who is running can yield the 6-foot social distance to anyone who is walking and unable to move out of the way.”

One person commented, “I am not going to be breathing through a mask while outdoors. I just don’t think the odds are going to be so high that I jeopardize my health this way.”

Another person stated, “If you do not feel safe you can always stay home. It’s a free country and you are free to take whatever precautions you feel you need just as everyone else is free to do the same.”

Smith said she’s considered high-risk at almost 70-years-old and is receiving cancer treatments. While she mostly stays inside and isolated, she said she needs to go out on walks to help with the side-effects of her cancer treatment.

“If people could understand there are people like me out there, and think if maybe if that was your mother or your sister, what would you do?” Smith said.

KRQE News 13 asked the New Mexico Department of Health whether people should be wearing homemade masks during their outdoor activities. A spokesperson for the New Mexico Health and Human Services Department offered the following statement:

There is no rule for wearing masks outdoors, but it’s a pandemic and asymptomatic people could be COVID-19 positive and unknowingly spread the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Therefore, runners and joggers that come into close contact with each other on the trails or walking are strongly advised to wear a cloth face-covering especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

While a homemade face mask does not completely protect someone from COVID-19, the CDC says it can help mitigate the spread and help protect others even if you don’t feel sick.

“I really understand how hard this is for everybody,” said Smith. “I’m trying to pull up some compassion because I know we all need to get out there and breathe,” she added.

According to the state’s website, there are 24 known positive COVID-19 cases in Smith’s zip code as of Wednesday.

“Not only does it make me feel safer physically, but it makes me feel respected as a human being when somebody cares enough about my well-being to put a mask on,” said Smith.

If people choose not to wear a mask during their outings, Smith said she hopes neighbors will continue to practice social distancing when passing by.

“Every single person has come into this with something that’s difficult in life, and it’s gotten a little more difficult,” Smith said. “We truly are all in this together.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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