April 21: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at email@example.com, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
With the new CDC guidelines about cloth masks, should I be wearing a mask or face covering even when I go out for a walk or run? I have started running on less crowded streets in my neighborhood to maintain a safe distance. But in the city, it isn’t always possible to be 6 feet away all the time when others are also out walking and exercising.
Yes, you should be wearing a mask at any time you cannot maintain a six-foot distance from those around you. Even when walking or running.
Or perhaps especially when walking or running, says Dr. Shawn Ferullo, MIT Medical’s chief of student health. “The main purpose of the mask is not to protect you, but to protect other people from you, in case you are infected but asymptomatic,” he notes. “A runner or walker who is breathing heavily releases more respiratory droplets into the air and expels them further. If that individual is infected, they are likely releasing more virus into the air.” This may or may not be somewhat balanced out by the fact that rapid movement disturbs the air around you, which might more quickly dilute any virus you release.
In any case, if you can’t avoid other people when exercising, you should cover your mouth and nose. According to the CDC, this facial covering should fit snugly over your nose and mouth, which probably won’t be very uncomfortable when walking but may be difficult to maintain while running. It could require some experimentation to find a “mask” that works for you and your level of activity. You might try making your own face covering using a moisture-wicking running shirt. Links to a how-to video and some patterns, including no-sew options, can be found in our April 6th update. Some runners have started using neck gaiters to cover their mouth and nose in lieu of a mask — though depending on the thickness of the material, you might need to fold it over a few times to create a sufficiently thick barrier.
Whatever type of facial covering you decide to use, remember that it’s no substitute for effective social distancing. So, try to schedule your runs for times when fewer people will be outside, and stay as far away as possible from anyone else who is out and about. And do keep walking and running. Exercise is crucial for physical and mental health, perhaps now more than ever.