Tuesday, July 5

Everything there is to know about the new use of masks: where yes, where not and other exceptions

Spain joins the rest of European countries where the outdoor mask is not mandatory. This has been confirmed by the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, after the Interterritorial Health Council held with the councilors of the autonomous communities. “All the indicators indicate that we are on the right track and, with the very high vaccination rates, it is advisable to start introducing more flexibility,” said the Minister of Health. Not surprisingly, our country has reached 50% of the population this Wednesday with at least one dose of vaccine and has registered a new record of doses administered in a single day.

Beyond the mask type debate: the fundamental (and often overlooked) question is fit

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The measure has been included in the Royal Decree Law on making the mask more flexible and will be approved this Thursday by an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers. Here are several questions and answers that this new step towards a new normal very similar to the old has awakened.

Where can I remove my mask and since when?

As of Saturday, June 26, the mask will no longer be mandatory outdoors where a safety distance of one and a half meters can be maintained between people who do not live together. Distance is a requirement that health professionals and epidemiologists ask to respect, although the scientific community has always maintained that, as long as it exists, the outdoor mask is not the ideal measure against community transmission. It was established this way to familiarize the public with its use, but the most controversial spaces continue to be poorly ventilated interiors with little interpersonal space.

Residents of socio-sanitary centers will also be dispensed from its use, provided that 80% of their inmates and their workers have received the complete schedule of the vaccine. In the pool or on the beach, where until now it was mandatory except for bathing or sunbathing, it is also no longer so.

Where will it be taken?

It will still be mandatory in closed spaces with free access, such as libraries or hospitals, and in public means of transport, such as plane, train, tram, bus or metro. In fact, to ensure that no one accesses them without a mask, one must always have one on top. Another novelty is that the rule exempts passengers from boats or ships from carrying it, as long as they remain inside their cabin or maintain a meter and a half of interpersonal distance on the deck. “They are progressive, gradual and prudent measures that will come in handy because the public demanded them”, the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, celebrated after the Interterritorial Council.

There are exceptions?

Yes. As for exteriors, the exceptions are “multitudinous events”, such as concerts and demonstrations. If the concerts are held with people standing up and without maintaining a safety distance, the mask will be mandatory. It will not be so if they are organized outdoors and in seats separated by a meter and a half. The new rule also exempts people who can prove some type of respiratory condition or illness incompatible with their use, from carrying them, as up to now.

How much is the fine for forgetting it?

Carolina Darias has not elaborated on the matter, but it will be detailed in the next Official State Gazette. The law establishes that not wearing a mask or wearing it incorrectly could lead to fines of up to 100 euros, but the autonomous communities have the power to adapt it in their own decrees. Until now, most of the autonomies have considered it a “minor offense” and the fines have ranged between 100 and 3,000 euros. If the contrary is not established in the official gazettes, the sanction will cover the same range.

What if I don’t want to take it off yet?

The regulations establish the cases in which it will not be mandatory, but does not dictate anything for the contrary hypothesis. “If someone wants to continue wearing a mask, welcome. That you can take it off does not mean that you have to take it off. If someone feels that there are too many people around them or there is any risk of transmission, they can put it on,” he said clearly. Fernando Simón, director of the Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies last Monday.

When will it be time for the interiors?

It is still early. As indicated by Health, this is a gradual and prudent rule, and it still does not contemplate a scenario in which it is not going to be used in closed spaces. In hotels, shops, nightclubs, transport, and educational centers or health centers, it will continue to be mandatory. Experts agree that this should not change until at least 70% of the population has received the full guideline. They also recommend not giving closed dates so as not to play with expectations. “My fear is that after so much use and fear, people do not want to see a mask or paint,” acknowledged the spokesman for the Spanish Society of Public Health SESPAS to this newspaper.

Is it not compulsory abroad either?

In many countries, either. Spain has not been a pioneer with this measure. Rather the complete opposite. In Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, a mask is not used in open spaces, but neither in closed spaces. At no time has it been mandatory in the UK as long as the safety distance was respected. Germany, Portugal, Poland or Hungary announced this relaxation of the rule long ago, and France went ahead by a matter of a week. Belgium has imposed it only on busy shopping streets. In Europe, the one that has not yet made a decision on the matter is Italy. On the contrary, the United States has opened the door for vaccinated people not to wear a mask, even indoors.

Is it an irreversible rule?

No. It depends on the epidemiological indicators and it is possible to go back if they worsen. It already happened last year. The obligation to carry it on the street was established in the summer of 2020 by decree of several communities, whether or not there was distance outdoors. The last to incorporate it were Madrid and the Canary Islands, but at the end of July, it was already mandatory throughout Spain. In March 2021, the norm reached state status by an amendment by the PSOE. As for scenarios closer to the current one, we can look at Israel, which was one of the first countries to eliminate it outdoors and this week has again forced its use in areas where they are detecting coronavirus outbreaks.

What do epidemiologists recommend?

As in everything, there are discordant voices. Several investigations are also ongoing on them and not only on their use, but also on their compounds. “It is a more political than scientific tool, and science still does not have enough evidence that we can eliminate it,” explained Gema Escobar, director of the San Rafael-Nebrija University Center for Health Sciences. Daniel López-Acuña, former director of the WHO, on the contrary, still supported its use outdoors, but thinks that there must be a “gradual de-escalation of the use of the mask.”

Mario Fontán Vela, a preventive doctor and author of several studies on the transmission of COVID-19, acknowledged that he was among the skeptics about keeping it outdoors. In any case, he concluded that “it is not a medal that no politician can hang on, because if the masks are removed, it will have been the merit of the whole of society.”