Ear loopmasksThe Health, Safety, and Security Committee met to discuss the issue of wearing masks on Fearrington paths and trails. The following statement represents a consensus of the committee: Warren Ort, Carol Wade, Dr. Art Gerber, Karen Metzguer, Maggie Tunstall, and Gordon Pitz.

CDC's most recent guidelines for wearing masks dated 12/7/2020 read in part as follows: "People age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household. … A mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. … Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with other people who live in your household. However, some localities may have mask mandates while out in public and these mandates should always be followed.”

It may be prudent to always carry a mask with you to don in certain situations, such as when two walkers are approaching from opposite directions and one cannot step off the trail to allow the other to pass. An example is Creekwood Trail where some parts do not allow this. Another would be coming upon a friend and stopping to chat for a while or coming upon a person experiencing a medical event.

The concept of wearing masks is not new. Masks have been worn by people in a variety of settings. No, not the eye coverings of the Lone Ranger or Marvel's Super Heroes, but mouth and nose coverings worn by surgeons, construction and demolition workers, and people in a variety of laboratory settings, among others.

The CDC guidelines emphasize that a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart. Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after touching or removing a mask. The CDC website has some other very useful information including types of masks and which are recommended and not recommended.

Apart from the inconvenience of wearing a mask, it may cause breathing difficulties while engaging in high intensity activities such as running. The bottom line is that people have to use their best judgement when in the presence of others. Several factors determine the risk of contracting the virus from someone else: distance from others, time spent at that distance, ventilation, humidity, protective barriers, and any existing medical conditions (comorbidities).

An interesting planning exercise is an app developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT): An Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool. "The risk level is the estimated chance that at least one Covid-19 positive individual will be present at an event in a county, given the size of the event." Chances of exposure change depending on which county you're in and how large the event. Risk increases with the size of the gathering.

Note from the tool: "You can reduce the risk that one case becomes many by wearing a mask, distancing, and gathering outdoors in smaller groups."

—Carol Wade, for the Committee