On April 3, the Centers For Disease Control announced a new recommendation: that all Americans wear cloth face masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In most parts of the country, it's still considered safe to walk and run outside as long as you stay six feet away from others at all times. But what do the new face mask guidelines mean for outdoor runners and walkers? According to Steven Mayer, MD, a sports medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Running Medicine Clinic, it means you may have to cover your nose and mouth before you hit the pavement.
The CDC is "encouraging people to wear a mask in public to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus," Dr. Mayer told POPSUGAR. "I believe that outdoor runners have to consider this recommendation seriously depending on their planned running route." If you are going to run on a busy trail or sidewalk where you might encounter a lot of people, "it would be advisable to have some form of facial covering," Dr. Mayer said.
If you're positive that you won't see or pass anyone on your running route, he said, it's reasonable to run outside without a mask. This could be the case if you live in a more rural, less densely populated area, or if you're running at a time of day when few people are out, such as early in the morning. "If you are going to run on safe side streets and avoid other people completely, and do not anticipate ever coming within six feet of other people, it is reasonable to consider running without a mask," Dr. Mayer said.
The decision to wear a face mask is an important one for runners because face masks can affect your breathing and the quality of your run. "Running with a mask is a more difficult endurance task than running without one," Dr. Mayer explained. "It certainly takes more effort to breathe, as the mask does inhibit the flow of air to some extent." A mask can also be a source of uncomfortable heat on your face.
For runners, Dr. Mayer suggested one potential solution: making your own face mask using more comfortable fabrics. "A moisture-wicking type of material may be more comfortable," he noted. You could cut up a sweat-wicking running shirt to create a mask that sits more comfortably on your face and won't collect moisture from your breath or sweat. The CDC offers instructions on how to create cloth face masks at home, including a no-sew option. Make sure the mask completely covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly on the sides of your face.
You could also consider wearing a ski-style face mask or neck gaiter around your mouth and nose, though Dr. Mayer noted that this type of material may have small holes to provide airflow. Such masks would be less effective, and it would be even more crucial to stay six feet away from others while you run.
Considering the current CDC guidelines, Dr. Mayer concluded that it is safe to run outside without a mask or facial covering as long as:
- You are not sick and aren't showing coronavirus symptoms, such as coughing, fever, or shortness of breath
- You completely avoid other people during your run
If you're running on a busier trail or in an area with other people around, "a mask at this time is recommended," Dr. Mayer said. Even when wearing a mask, you should still remain six feet away from other people at all times. Here are more doctor-approved tips on maintaining distance and staying safe while running outside.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.