With hourly news cycles and weekly CDC reports guiding us through the global COVID-19 pandemic, some uncertainties still remain. And though we’re all doing our part to stay at home and shelter in place, one activity has luckily held steadfast: the option to run outside, a freedom many rely on for their health and well being during these turbulent times.
But recently, the CDC guidelines recommend “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” And a study done by The New England Journal of Medicine reported that aerosolized coronavirus could remain in the air for up to three hours (yikes).
So does that mean we should be wearing face masks while running or exercising outside?
The CDC made this recommendation to “slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.” Basically, it’s to protect the people around you in addition to yourself. But when it comes to running, the waters are murky. Yes, your neighborhood block is considered a “public setting” but can you successfully maintain six-feet of distance between yourself and others? And can the droplets we produce through heaving breathing, coughing or sneezing spread even further while outside?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, some far worse than others. Perhaps you’ve seen or were sent the now-viral computer simulation that supposedly tracks the spread droplets made by exhaling runners, walkers or cyclers. But the Belgian team of scientists that released that graphic did so prior to publishing a peer-reviewed article or revealing any information on how the study was conducted or what these findings actually prove. It’s a frightening visual with scarce public research to back it up. As noted in an article by Vice earlier this month, scientists are still unsure how well the COVID-19 virus spreads through the air. “Many have cautiously speculated that the overall risk of transmission appears to be less outdoors. Globules and droplets do likely carry the virus, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who gets a droplet on them from someone’s breath is going to be infected. Transmission depends on a host of factors,” they say.
With all of these unknowns, the best thing you can do as a runner is to follow the CDC’s recommendations. If you're gearing up to run around your crowded city block, wear a nonsurgical face mask to protect yourself and others, and make sure you’re following the CDC’s guidelines for how to successfully utilize it. It should “fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.”
Read more here for instructions on how to make your own or see some of our favorite shoppable options below. A neck gaiter or bandana is a great way to cover your face while running because they’re lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking (there’s also warming varieties for when the colder months roll around). Per the CDC's guidelines, multi-layer cotton fabric is preferred.