It’s late afternoon and the workday is finally over. You head out for a walk during quarantine to get some fresh air and out of nowhere comes an unmasked runner. Breathing heavily and sweating, they brisk right past you like a fresh ocean breeze, and now you’re wondering, should runners wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s an interesting argument that has parkgoers uneasy as face coverings were recommended by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo whenever someone goes outside where social distancing is not possible. Running in populated parks often creates congestion where runners, bikers, parents with strollers, and just regular pedestrians are packed tight like a college care package. It’s uncomfortable and there have been debates as to what is the best practice for runners during the coronavirus outbreak.
While some runners might argue that running with a mask on prohibits their breathing, it’s being recommended by fitness experts that runners should wear some type of protection to cover their nose and mouth when outdoors.
Matt Ferrari Ph.D., associate professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State University, told Runner’s World that runners should take safety precautions seriously. Try to keep big distances from others, which would require wearing a mask. However, if you’re running in a less crowded park or on trails, it may not be necessary since there will be less congestion.
“Face coverings do two possible things—they contain spread from the ill and prevent inhalation in the healthy,” Ferrari told the outlet. “The degree to which they achieve these things is debated, but one thing is not: they are only effective if used properly. And most people are not trained to use masks properly. Even taking a mask on and off incorrectly can be risky and increase your hand-to-mouth exposure.”
Patrick Davitt, the director of the University of Sciences’ Health Science Program, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that masks should be worn “100%” of the time if you’re running in an area where you’re likely to encounter other people.
He recommended listening to your body when running with a mask, especially if you have underlying conditions.
“Airflow will be restricted, so your body will have to work harder to perform at the same rate as you would without the mask, and that becomes exponentially true as the intensity goes up,” Davitt said. “The faster and harder you’re breathing, the more the mask is going to affect that.”
Kyle Schnitzer is a staff reporter at Ladders