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If I stay 6 feet away from others, do I still need a mask? Experts say it depends

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Do I need to wear a mask if I’m 6 feet (1.8 m) away from others?

Health experts recommend wearing masks in public and keeping your distance from others in most cases, but whether you should do both could depend on the situation.

“There’s no invisible force field at 6 feet,” said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spread of the virus beyond 6 feet is uncommon but more likely in poorly ventilated spaces. Some health experts say the virus can spread more easily than the agency indicates, and suggest wearing masks even in prolonged outdoor gatherings when people are more than 6 feet apart.

Read more: Are you cleaning your mask properly? Dos and Don’ts of mask hygiene

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Other factors could also influence whether it’s best to keep your distance while also wearing a mask. When people raise their voices or pant — such as when they sing, shout or exercise — they can expel more respiratory droplets or aerosols, and send them travelling farther through the air. The longer you’re in a situation with potential for exposure to the virus, the greater your risk of infection.

“The reason this stuff is so confusing is people want clear answers, and there’s not a straightforward answer,” said Lisa M. Lee, a public health expert at Virginia Tech.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Trump’s treatments; Separating the symptoms; Mask wearing – Oct 5, 2020

Since no protective measure is entirely effective, Lee suggests layering safeguards like masks, social distancing and hand washing.

“And your mask is your basic layer,” she said.

Read more: Coronavirus face masks are mandatory outdoors in Italy. Should Canada do the same?

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Getting in the habit of wearing a mask anytime you leave the house also eliminates having to decide when you should, said Bob Bednarczyk, an expert in infectious diseases at Emory University.

“It’s one less thing to worry about,” he said.