It’s Summer! Do Seniors Need to Wear Masks Outside?


Summer is finally here! There are many beautiful days ahead of us. And since the pandemic has slowed down and so many people have made the decision to stay safe through vaccines and boosters, it’s time to see family and friends again. Many of us can even get on a plane and travel to those destinations we’ve missed so much over the last few years! Perhaps this summer is when things begin to get back to a new sort of “normal” for everyone.

Since official guidance about masks and other precautions seems to be changing all the time, you might be wondering what the latest protocol is for the utmost in safety for you and everyone you meet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revisits and updates guidance every few weeks, and mask guidance can be different for those who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated, those with serious underlying health conditions, or those who are in certain age groups.

Since we just mentioned vaccinations, we’d be remiss not to point out how important getting vaccinated is. Those who are age 65 and older are at much higher risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death[1]. The journal Aging reports that those over 65 represent 80% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and have a higher chance of death after contracting the virus[2]. However, those who get vaccinated have a 94% decreased risk of those complications related to COVID-19.

It’s also important to point out that while you’re doing so many good things to protect yourself from COVID-19, you can look at other areas of your life where you could use a little more protection. Using medical alert technology can help ensure that if you need assistance, help can be on the way FAST with only the touch of a button. And if you opt for a medical alert system with fall detection, that’s even more security – fall detection can alert emergency agents to a problem even if you don’t have the ability to press the button to ask for assistance on your own.

When You Should Wear a Mask

The CDC says that in general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings. This means that if you are taking a stroll around the neighborhood, walking your dog, or otherwise taking time outside that won’t put you in contact with others, you don’t need to use a mask. A good rule of thumb is that if you can feel the wind on your cheeks or in your hair, you are in an area with excellent ventilation, and the need for a mask is much lower.

However, if you live in an area with high numbers of COVID cases, you should avoid crowded outdoor settings and if you are in one, wear a mask despite being outdoors. You should also wear a mask outdoors if you are going to be in close contact with individuals who are not fully vaccinated. (If you’re not sure if your area is one of high COVID-19 cases, this site will help you determine that.)

If you are taking medication that weakens your immune system, such as is common with those who are on immune-suppressant drugs after a transplant, you should continue to wear a mask. This is because your immune system might not have mounted a fully robust response to the vaccination, and you might not be fully protected. If you have any sort of medical condition that might weaken your immune system, such as diabetes, wearing a mask is a good idea for you as well. It is a great idea to look into medical alert systems if you are elderly and have a chronic condition.

Another good way to determine if you should wear a mask is the “cigarette test” as suggested in The New York Times. If someone were to light up a cigarette wherever you are, would you be able to smell the smoke? If the smoke could travel to you, so could droplets of the virus. That means wearing a mask is a good idea, especially if you are elderly or immunocompromised.

What if you are in an outdoor area that’s crowded, like a sports or music venue? If you’re in close quarters, such as being shoulder-to-shoulder right near the stage, the odds of contracting coronavirus are a bit higher[3]. Perhaps there is a middle ground to be had, where you choose an area on the grassy part of the open-air venue, where you can see the show but still have ample space around you.

There is one other thing to note about when you should wear a mask, even if you feel as though you are in a safe place and don’t need one: If there is a sign on the door that asks you to wear a mask to enter, it’s a good idea to put it on. This makes it easier for the employees who work there, as they don’t have to deal with the potential stress of having to ask you to put on a mask.

What if You Can’t Tolerate a Mask?

Some folks won’t be able to tolerate wearing a mask. For many, the mask is simply uncomfortable or annoying. But there are others who could have real trouble wearing a mask on a regular basis, if they can wear one at all. Wearing a mask can lead to a feeling of claustrophobia and discomfort; for those who already suffer from anxiety, this can make wearing a mask feel awful. However, it’s important to remember that the mask works well to allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to flow through but keeps droplets that contain the virus out.

If you have a very significant lung disease, such as emphysema or advanced COPD, you might feel a little short of breath when you wear a mask. This is especially true for those who have a disease significant enough to require oxygen therapy. However, if your disease has progressed to that stage, you are at the highest risk of complications from COVID-19 and probably should not be out in crowded public spaces at all[4]. Therefore, the best option for you to get out and about is at a park or other setting where social distancing can be very easy and you can get away without wearing a mask at all.

You can also try training yourself to use a mask. This simply includes wearing a mask at home, where you are in a position to take the mask off when you need to do so. Try wearing the mask for longer and longer periods of time until you get used to it[5].

The bottom line is that wearing a mask should be a personal decision, but one made with the guidance of your medical team and professional caregivers. Consider it a way to keep you safe, a sort of insurance against things that might happen, much the same way a medical alarm works. You have it on hand and you use it if needed.

What’s the Best Mask to Use?

The best masks out there are labeled as KN95, N95, and KF94. It can sometimes be tough to find these, though the supply chain is improving over the last year or so. This guide from Wirecutter can help you figure out where to buy these masks.

If a cloth mask turns out to be too cumbersome, try a paper or disposable mask, also known as a surgical mask. These lighter masks might feel better against your face but still offer good protection. However, it’s important to note that these masks don’t provide the best protection possible.

How to Care for Your Masks

If you are using a high-quality mask, such as a KN95, it might be tempting to use them over and over again – they can be rather pricey. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which are usually listed on the box.

If you are using a cloth mask, it can be reused. If you will be using it several times a day, keep it in a breathable, mesh bag between uses. At the end of your day, wash the cloth mask by hand or throw it in your washer. The mask should be washed at least once a day.

Disposable masks should be worn only once and then thrown away. Don’t try to clean these or wear them for several days. The higher-quality masks might be good for one day only as well, but it depends upon the manufacturer of your particular mask. If your mask gets dirty or damaged, use a clean one. In fact, carry several with you just in case[6].

Taking Preventative Measures Against COVID-19

Prevention of contracting COVID-19 goes well beyond vaccinations and masks. There are many other ways that you can stay safe and keep those around you safe, too.

·         Wash your hands regularly. Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do for overall good health, not just for preventing COVID-19. Our hands pick up significant amounts of germs every day, and the best way to get rid of them is to simply wash them down the drain with soap and water. Soap up your hands and wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well and then dry them with a paper towel or air dryer. If all that hand washing makes your hands feel very dry, carry a small bottle of lotion with you to use when necessary.

·         Use hand sanitizer. If you are in an area where you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. You should use this every time you touch something that other people might have touched, such as when opening doors, or riding public transportation, or shopping at the grocery store. You can also use it before you eat if you don’t have a sink handy for a proper hand-washing. Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration says hand sanitizer isn’t enough to protect yourself against COVID-19; however, the CDC does recommend that if you use it, the most effective ones will be composed of at least 70% alcohol[7].

·         Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with a handkerchief or tissue. If you don’t have one handy, cough or sneeze into your elbow if possible. Turn away from other people who might be nearby. All of these things can help trap the tiny droplets that your body emits when you cough or sneeze, and if you do have COVID-19 (or other airborne illnesses), that can help keep others safe.

·         Practice social distancing. During the height of the pandemic, we were all advised to stay at least six feet away from others if we had to go out in public. Today that advice is still quite sound. If you are staying outside, it is much easier to avoid the possibility of COVID-19. However, if you are in a crowded area, try to stay at least six feet away from others.

·         Get tested regularly. If you have been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or you are feeling concerning symptoms, get tested immediately. The federal government offers free at-home testing kits that allow you to stay isolated while you find out if you have been infected. If you do test positive, isolate yourself physically from others and alert your physician to your positive test result. (Keep in mind that if you are experiencing symptoms and they worsen very quickly – as sometimes is the case with COVID-19 variants – never hesitate to use your medical alert pendant to call for help. That’s what it’s there for!)

·         Limit in-person interactions. If you can avoid crowds, that’s the best plan of action right now. Rather than go out to a crowded restaurant, have food delivered – or look for a restaurant that has ample outdoor seating.

·         Choose your timing. If you are going to a place that is often crowded, such as a grocery store, make a point of going as early in the day as possible. This will be a quieter time with fewer people there. If you’re a night owl, hitting the grocery store after the rest of your neighborhood has already settled in for the night could leave you with plenty of space to roam.

·         Clean and disinfect surfaces. Focus your efforts on areas where touch is necessary, such as doorknobs, toilet flush handles, all parts of the sink, tabletops, and the like. Do this every day if you can. The Environmental Protection Agency offers information on disinfectants that might be suitable for fighting against the virus that causes COVID-19.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!