Coronavirus Driving: Do We Need to Wear Masks in Our Cars?

Driver wearing face mask

Is it necessary to wear a mask in a car? We see a lot of people wearing them, even when they are the only person in the car. Also, is it safe to drive with your car windows open?

According to an interesting article in the Globe and Mail, the only way to catch COVID-19 while driving, is if someone in your car is already infected with the virus. Being that this is the case, David Evans, a virologist and professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, says there’s no need to wear a mask inside your vehicle. Unless, of course, there’s someone else in the car who may be infected. Evans furthermore says it’s fine to open the windows in your car.  “It’s a beautiful day today in Edmonton, sunny and three degrees Celsius,” said Evans, “and so I drove to work with the top down on my convertible, no mask.”

convertible car with the top down, driver and passenger enjoy the air and sun

It makes sense to wear a mask in a grocery store, where it may be hard to keep your distance from others, but the virus doesn’t spread easily, by air, in particular in the out of doors. That’s why the directive to wear masks hasn’t really extended to wearing a mask while driving.

You Can Go Ahead and Open the Window

Despite the low probability of contracting the coronavirus while on the road, drive-through corona testing centers in South Korea advised drivers to hit the recirculation button on their air conditioning systems, to keep pathogens in the car, rather than allowing them to escape into the atmosphere. Evans, however, says that if you’re not close enough to inhale droplets from a second passenger or driver’s breathing, sneezing, or coughing, it’s very unlikely you’ll get the virus, just from being in the same car. Meantime, getting coronavirus through an open car window while driving, is even less likely.

“If someone [breathes] out some infectious droplets outside, these will rapidly settle to the ground, dry out, and stick to the surface they’ve landed on, and the virus in them will begin to inactivate,” Evans says, and adds that this happens even more quickly when it’s a sunny day, as the ultraviolet light from the sun renders viruses—including coronavirus—inactive.

Social Distancing? In a Car?? No Need

What about the need for social distancing? Is it even possible in a car? Evans says no. Which is why the virologist recommends sharing a car, only with people who live in your home.

What about helping someone make a trip for an essential purpose, such as taking your elderly mom to the doctor? Here, Evans recommends driver and passengers err on the side of caution, with all donning masks. If anyone is high-risk, try to use an N95 mask, rather than a mask that is homemade.

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