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Should I Wear A Mask While Riding?
By Jordan Smith From Bicycling
This is a rapidly developing situation. For the most up-to-date information, check resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) regularly. This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
- CDC guidelines have recently been updated to recommend have recently been updated to recommend wearing cloth face coverings “in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
- This measure was put in place help reduce the spread of the virus from spreading between people interacting in close proximity.
- Cyclists should be riding safely either solo or in small, trusted groups and on routes where they won’t encounter others or can maintain at least six feet of distance from others at all times.
- A recent study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A suggested that widespread mask use may help reduce transmission rates and slow or control a second wave of coronavirus outbreak.
- A recent study done by researchers at Duke University found that of commonly used masks, three-layer surgical masks or similar homemade cotton masks were effective at reducing the transmission of droplets during regular speech.
- Still, wearing a cloth face covering is not a substitute for regular hand washing, physical distancing, or remaining at home when ill. Check your local government recommendations for guidance. (You can find a directory of state health departments here)
Although the coronavirus pandemic has impacted day-to-day life for all, we fortunately still have the option to ride outside, solo or with a small group depending on where you live. Your rides should be in areas where you can be alone or maintain at least six feet (this is the current recommendation for distancing and more research is needed for the appropriate distance when moving at speed) between yourself and others to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. If you’re not feeling well, it’s best to stay home.
What is the latest info on masks?
According to the WHO, asymptomatic spread is still a concern. This means you may be able to spread the virus to others without knowing you have it, and others may be able to spread it to you.
Which is why CDC guidelines recommend “cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
As states begin to open up, and people return to activities like indoor dining and larger social gatherings, states such as Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida, among others are reporting record-high cases and hospitalizations in recent days.
To help mitigate the spread, some state governments have also suggested that everyone wear cloth face masks when they go out in public for essential activities to help prevent those who are asymptomatic from spreading the virus, similar to CDC recommendations.
Some states, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California, are instituting mandatory mask wearing in public anytime a person is are unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet from people who are not members of their households. And many businesses, such as grocery stores, require customers to wear masks in order to enter. (The CDC has more resources on how to properly use and wear cloth masks.)
Recently, a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A suggested that widespread mask use may help reduce transmission rates and when combined with social distancing and any necessary stay-at-home orders could even help prevent a second wave, which is why it’s important for everyone to wear a mask in public.
Another recent study done by researchers at Duke University found that of commonly used masks, three-layer surgical masks or similar homemade cotton masks were effective at reducing the transmission of droplets during regular speech.
There has been some controversy over this study due to misinterpretations. It’s important to remember that this study was not designed to test the efficacy of each mask, explains Matt Ferrari Ph.D., associate professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science, and a researcher with the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State. “This is not a criticism of the authors, they didn’t design the study for this, it was designed to show how to evaluate masks and face coverings,” Ferrari said.
So the results are not to say you should stop using a face covering—even neck gaiters or a bandana. The key is to continue to “stick with the tried and true advice: Stay apart. Stay outside. Wear a multi-ply mask if you can. Wear anything in a pinch,” Ferrari said.
What do all these recommendations about masks mean for cyclists?
“Really, what these announcements should mean to athletes, and to everyone, is that the situation we are in is very serious. And that we all need to consider the consequences of our individual actions on the community around us,” said Matt Ferrari Ph.D., associate professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science, and a researcher with the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State.
The purpose of the mask is not to protect you, but to protect other people from you. “If that is the goal, going out solo and avoiding other people altogether is the best thing you can do,” said Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
If your regular route is crowded, you should try to find a different route or adjust the time you ride in the future for the safety of everyone. And if you don’t want to wear a mask when you ride, you’ll need to find a route where you encounter no or few people and keep at least a six-foot distance from those you do encounter. You should also bring a mask with you in case of an emergency such as encountering an accident or having to stop in a store for food or drink.
There are other considerations to keep in mind. For example, the Pennsylvania guidelines state that masks “should not be worn damp or when wet from spit or mucus.” In a press conference on April 3, Rachel Levine, M.D., Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, suggested that cloth face coverings may not be necessary when out for solo exercise if you’ll be in a place where you won’t encounter anyone else. There is no advantage to wearing a face covering if you aren’t going to be near people at all, explained Ferrari.
“Face coverings do two possible things—they contain spread from the ill and prevent inhalation in the healthy,” Ferrari said. “The degree to which they achieve these things is debated, but one thing is not: They are only effective if used properly.” The WHO has more resources on how to properly use masks.
But even if cyclists are trying to practice physical distancing and ride solo, we know that’s not always possible—especially on popular routes and trails. If you’re looking to wear a covering on your rides in an area where you may encounter others, wearing a Buff or other moisture-wicking face covering may help cut down on droplets being spread to others because of heavy breathing, coughing, and sneezing, said David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Cloth face coverings can even be made from household items like a bandana, T-shirt, or pillow case. (Tutorials can be found here.)
“This virus is highly contagious and transmissible, and it appears we cannot be too careful,” Nieman said.
Masks should fit snugly over the nose and mouth, not be touched once placed on the face, and washed or discarded immediately after each use. (More helpful information on homemade masks from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on masks can be found here.)
It is critical to emphasize that maintaining social distancing of at least six feet (again, this is the current recommendation as more research is needed on the appropriate distance when moving at speed) remains vital to slowing the spread of the virus. Also, wearing a cloth face covering is not a substitute for hand washing, physical distancing, or remaining at home when ill. Check your local government recommendations for guidance.