Joggers are a common sight and are often seen gasping, wheezing, coughing, and forcing walkers off pavements in busy town centres. On cold mornings they can be seen exhaling crystalised clouds of vapour. These clouds, left hanging in the air on windless days, and their exhalations that waft into pedestrians as they pass, are now claimed to be a potential source of Covid-19 infection.
Joggers create more virus in the atmosphere, and a greater viral load, by inhaling and exhaling much more air than walkers. It is also clear that a number of people have contracted Covid-19 by inhaling what other people have exhaled. These emerging facts have prompted calls, from public health experts, for joggers to be compelled to wear masks. They believe that masking joggers can reduce the virus-laden clouds of moisture that they throw off. Their hope being that the UK government will reduce this risk by following France where joggers, and cyclists, are required to wear masks in towns and crowded areas.
This is also still a much contested issue, and skeptical researchers say it’s possible to acquire a Covid-19 infection outdoors but the chances of doing so are greatly reduced. The open air disperses and dilutes Covid-19 and helps to evaporate the droplets in which the virus is carried. Additionally, ultra-violet radiation from the Sun kills any virus that’s directly exposed to it. Despite these considerations, there is still a risk and people have contracted the virus while outdoors.
Opponents of this policy, also argue exercising outdoors is also one of the few freedoms in lockdown that people in the UK still enjoy, and that there are substantial benefits in terms of physical and mental health which outweigh the minimal Covid-19 risk. Also joggers contacts with pedestrians tend to be infrequent and short, and are thought to be too fleeting to contract the virus.
What do the World Health Organization guidelines say about joggers wearing masks?
The World Health Organization, WHO, is clear on this issue: “People should not wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably”. They added that, “Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of micro-organisms.” WHO’s previous guidance on mask wearing has been confusing, inappropriate and contrary to emerging evidence. Its current advice is to maintain a distance of at least a metre from others when outdoors. This is seen as insufficient, in some cases, by many experts.
Experts that disagree with WHO mask guidelines being applied to joggers
Professor in Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, Trish Greenhalgh, in an interview with British television, warned of the dangers of puffing, gasping joggers: “There is no doubt the virus is in the air, there is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale what someone else has exhaled. The exercising jogger, the puffing and panting jogger, you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.”
She also warned that, “40% of Covid cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms – so you’re jogging along you think you’re fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms of Covid, but you’ve actually breathed that Covid onto someone perhaps you know, an old lady walking a dog or something like that.”
Professor Greenhalgh, at the start of the lockdown, contended that there is another important reason why runners should wear a mask. She said that wearing a mask, when exercising close to others, endorses and helps to encourage social cohesion and community. A masked jogger is signalling that the Covid-19 pandemic is a very serious concern, and the safety of the public is more important than comfort when running or their personal best time.
Hopefully, if mask wearing by those exercising near the public becomes compulsory, instead of aggressive arguments on busy streets between puffing runners and nervous pedestrians, we might see both parties pass with peaceful acknowledgement.