As the pandemic continues to evolve, the one thing we can all seem to agree on — with the exception of the Minnesota Department of Health — is that being outdoors without a mask is extremely low risk.
Mask-wearing has been the topic of much debate since the beginning of the pandemic. While most Americans have come to accept and embrace mask-wearing indoors, outdoor mask-wearing has generally been considered superfluous, especially in situations where social distancing is possible. With the exception of a concert or similar event that has a large number of people grouped tightly together, it's highly unlikely an individual, especially a vaccinated individual, would contract COVID-19 outdoors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief medical adviser, told ABC News as much during an recent interview. Fauci said the move to relax outdoor mask-wearing recommendations is "common sense" as the evidence shows that "outdoor risk is really, really quite low."
As I write this, more than half of Americans have been vaccinated and nearly 60% of Minnesotans have received at least one vaccine dose. On April 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced more relaxed guidelines for mask-wearing outdoors.
While common sense is prevailing at the CDC, it appears to be dwindling at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). In contrast to the CDC, on April 24, MDH released more stringent guidelines for mask-wearing outdoors during the 2021 baseball/softball season. Those mandatory guidelines include that masks/face coverings must be worn by coaches and players "when not actively participating on the field of play and unable to maintain at least six feet away from others."
The official guidelines — which aren't so much guidelines as they are mandates considering that any team not abiding by the rules can be banned from playing — also include this inexplicable requirement for parents and spectators:
Masks/face coverings are required at all times for patrons of outdoor venues, unless the individual is exempt or permitted to temporarily remove their face covering under Executive Order 20-81 (as amended by 21-11).
As the proud mom of a White Bear Lake baseball player, I can't fully comprehend the logic behind MDH's new rules.
MDH's goal should be to encourage folks to go outdoors when they get the itch to socialize with family and friends who don't live with them, or when they want to watch a youth baseball game. Requiring masks outdoors does the exact opposite.
While nothing in life is zero risk, especially during a pandemic, focusing on mask-wearing outdoors is not only superfluous, it's unproductive.
I'm no public health expert, but it seems to me the MDH should put its focus on the situations that are riskiest and pull back a little on the safer settings. In a time when trust in public officials is low, this might actually give people more confidence in public health messages. And isn't that the goal? To encourage healthier behaviors — not unrealistic, zero-risk behaviors?
With extra safety measures in place — measures that have already been carefully developed by the Baseball Alliance of Minnesota, a collaboration of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services/Gopher State and Metro Baseball, the two largest statewide, community-based baseball organizations — there is no reason why players, coaches and especially spectators should be forced to wear masks outdoors.
We're making great strides in vaccinating our communities. And I think I speak for many parents of young athletes when I say we're happy and grateful for the COVID-19 vaccine and the opportunity for our kids to play ball.
Let's not put a damper on that enthusiasm by mandating masks at outdoor games.
Tina Mortimer, of Hugo, is a freelance writer.