Up until recently I was wearing a mask whilst running because I was apprehensive, despite clear guidelines. I hadn’t really understood the science behind – no masks.
I guess I was baffled when everyone seems to have contradicting interpretations of the science and etiquette around whether to wear a mask or not.
First, let’s get to the rules: Runners are not required to wear a mask. But there are days when after hearing about second wave of COVID – 19 in Beijing, China and Melbourne, Australia, I have picked up my mask, put it back thinking the guidelines clearly state that we don’t have to wear it, but eventually worn the mask out on my run, with the following image flashing across my mind whenever I hear a sneeze near me.
However, my doubts cleared after doing a bit of research. In this article I want to share some facts which will be helpful to you in making the right decisions to leave the mask on or not.
There is no scientific consensus around the importance of wearing a mask while exercising, primarily because so little relevant research has been completed.
Researchers do agree that masks slow the spread of the virus. They also agree that it’s best to avoid exercising within six feet of anyone beyond your immediate household and that working out is less risky outside than inside.
Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health who has studied masks’ ability to block respiratory droplets, suggests their value depends on location. “Outdoors is relatively safe, and masks would only be important if you are exercising in crowded areas or indoors in space shared with other people,” he said.
“A runner could only infect you if you were to stop and talk to them” said Julian Tang, a virologist and a professor at the University of Leicester in England. He thinks the risk of infection from quickly passing someone is low, because the “massive air volume will dilute any exhaled virus and the wind may carry it away.”
In general, researchers agree that air circulation outdoors seems to strongly inhibit transmission of the coronavirus. In a study of more than 7,300 coronavirus cases in China, just one was connected to outdoor transmission.
When an unmasked runner gets so close that you can smell him/ her, you should still resist the urge to yell. Yelling may also expel more viral droplets, said Alexandra Brewis, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University and the author of a book on stigma and global health.
What about sweat? Stranger sweat is disgusting. But it’s not among the bodily fluids that the C.D.C. warns transmitting the coronavirus.
Guided by these findings, I have started going for my runs without a mask but I still practice not running in crowds, taking my own water bottle and a small sanitiser bottle in case I use public toilets whilst running.
Keep running albeit safely.