Manitoba’s top doctor recommends wearing masks outdoors

The province’s top doctor is recommending people wear masks outdoors when gathering with people outside of their household.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said on Tuesday the recommendation comes on top of the indoor mask mandate.

“Even if you're gathering outdoors, I recommend wearing a mask if you're gathering with people outside of your home,” said Roussin on Tuesday.

He said while the risk for COVID-19 transmission is much lower outdoors, it isn’t zero, so it is important for any person who is showing symptoms to stay home and get tested.

Cynthia Carr, epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc., said there is data coming out of places like Alberta showing the risk of transmission between people outdoors is increasing.

“Because these variants of concern are even better at spreading, all you have to do is give the virus a chance to spread and it will,” said Carr.

For example, Carr said the P1 variant, which has not been found in Manitoba, is two and a half times more infectious than the regular COVID-19 virus, and that also applies outside if you’re close enough.

“I would certainly encourage people to keep their masks on outdoors because that fresh air, yes it disperses the virus potentially, but we still tend to walk close together,” Carr said. “(It) depends on how long we’re together. You just want to keep those layers of protection on and not let any level of the virus get into your airway.”

The risks associated with outdoor virus transmission are dependent on a variety of factors, both environmental and physical, including the direction the wind blows, asymptomatic carriers and a person’s viral load.

“If we knew back at the start of this, the amount of asymptomatic spread, you know we’d probably be in a different situation because we would have been wearing masks from day one,” said Carr.

Roussin noted current health orders do place limits on the size of outdoor gatherings. Currently, a maximum of 10 people are allowed to gather on private property and 25 people can gather on public property.

The province recommends people use masks in all shared spaces with non-household members, both indoors and outdoors, where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Making masks mandatory outdoors is something Carr said would not be unreasonable for the next two to three weeks to try and get transmission rates under control.

“To try to, if we can, stomp out as much opportunity for variants because that’s obviously where the danger is,” she said.

Dr. Roussin hasn’t made changes to the province’s mask mandate and encourages Manitobans to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

“So enjoy the spring weather, be active (and) be outside. But do remember those gathering sizes,” said Roussin.