Returning to Normalcy at Outdoor School Events

Are we safe outside without our masks?


Delta Dakoda

Students at Langley’s ‘Camo Out’ game, against Madison James, cheer on their team from the student section. This was Langley’s second home game of the year, and masks were not required.

While masks must be worn throughout the school day, the moment students set foot outside, everyone seems to take them off. According to the CDC, there is a lesser risk of COVID being spread outdoors, but it is still recommended to stay six feet apart. So, should masks be required at school sponsored events such as football games and homecoming when large crowds can’t social distance? 

A lot of thought and planning went into this decision, and Langley’s Director of Student Activities, Geoff Noto, worked closely with other activity directors from other schools and the county to make sure they were all on the same page regarding protocols.

“…We would have weekly meetings with leadership of FCPS from Gatehouse, and they would give us guidance…[We] had meetings…over Zoom, and they…shared the [mask] policy,” Noto said.

Although individual schools can’t make their own decisions regarding these policies, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) works closely with the Health Department and updates their protocols as needed. This ensures that policies such as whether or not to wear masks outdoors are updated as needed when new data is presented. In fact, they have changed their decision in regards to wearing a mask outside multiple times.

“…When…COVID came in March of 2020…they finally let us start doing…outside workouts…[students were] ten feet apart and you didn’t have to use a mask…[About a month later] we got guidance from FCPS saying now we have to wear a mask outside, [and this remained until winter of last year]…Then they changed it for outdoors you don’t have to wear a mask…[but] they brought it back for…football…In the springtime [of 2021] Fairfax [made their current decision that] when you’re outside you didn’t have to wear a mask,” Noto said.

This confirms that all current FCPS COVID policies are up to date and the safest for the time being, meaning it is okay not to wear masks at these outdoor events. Even though it is recommended to be six feet apart when outdoors without a mask, research has shown that the risk of transmission outside is significantly lower than indoors. Studies reviewed by Oxford Academic’s Journal of Infectious Diseases state that outdoor transmission rates are lower than 1%. However, if a student is still worried about getting COVID at one of these events, they always have the option to wear their mask as an extra precaution.

Even at large colleges such as Penn State, known for their crowded and exciting student sections, don’t require masks when outdoors. They actually don’t have any protocols in place when outside, which goes to show that even in groups of almost 110,000 it is still okay not to use a mask in an outdoor setting. 

“The precautions that are currently established do make me feel safe. I feel safe when walking in and around campus, [partially] due to my vaccination status…[and] the amount of Penn State students that have gotten COVID is very low in comparison to the number of students that attend Penn State in general,” Penn State freshman Kira Sieghart said.

Additionally, not mandating masks at outdoor events makes the school year feel a little closer to normal. Freshmen and sophomores have never experienced the exciting football games and school dances that are marveled in every teen movie and show. If mask-wearing were required at these events, students would miss out on the truly unique experience that is heavily emphasized in American culture. 

“[Without masks] I can actually see people’s faces and it seems more normal…You run the risk [of COVID] everyday even with masks…[but] because you’re outside…I think it’s totally fine,” freshman Brianna Cooper said.

COVID is a serious matter due to it’s rapid spread and dangerous effects; however, by understanding the health precautions FCPS has taken, as well as data on outdoor transmission rates, it is evidently safe to remain unmasked when outside. Although seemingly trivial, this glimpse of normalcy gives students something to look forward to, as well as hope for returning to how life once was.