Cases and context: Mask-related behaviors among U.S. trail visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ingrid E. Schneider, Christopher J. Wynveen, Julian Wolfson, Kim Shinew, Taylor Stein, William W. Hendricks, Heather Gibson, Deonne VanderWoude, Megha Budruk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The challenge of simultaneously providing outdoor recreation opportunities while protecting the public from SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 transmission, as well as future pandemics, remains foremost on managers' minds. Safe spaces and cultures are paramount for managers and visitors alike. Recommended protective measures against COVID-19 included physically distancing 1.8 m (six-feet) between parties and mask-wearing when distancing is not possible. Adoption of these protective measures is relatively unknown but essential to inform recreation management and planning through future health crises. Such adoption is likely influenced by both the pandemic context and site context, particularly related to visitor density. An observational study assessed mask-wearing behaviors among trail walkers on multiple trails in the United States from November 2020 through May 2021. Trained observers identified if walking groups were prepared to mask or had masks correctly worn as well as if encounters were compliant with the 1.8 m recommendations. Data collected across seven U.S. states enabled comparisons of mask-related behaviors across sites as well as considerations to: the influence of the pandemic context in terms of cases and vaccination rates, mask mandates, and trail density. Results from nearly 3000 encounters revealed significant variance in visible masks, low compliance of mask-wearing in encounters less than 1.8 m, significant influence of both COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates on mask wearing at half the sites, and no impact of state-level mask mandates when controlling for cases and vaccinations. Integrating public health data can inform predictions of compliant behaviors, or lack thereof, and needs exist to advance a safety culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100494
JournalJournal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Health
  • Leisure time physical activity
  • Masks
  • Pandemic
  • Policy
  • Protective behavior
  • Recreation
  • Safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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