This is a rapidly developing situation. For the most up-to-date information, check resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly. This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
As we move into summer months and vaccinations among Americans begin to increase, we have reason to be hopeful that a return to a pre-pandemic normal is getting closer. However, COVID-19 is still continuing to spread, and cases are even increasing in some parts of the country. The United States has reported more than 30 million cases and more than 500,000 deaths as of April 21. This is also causing continued cancellations of races in the United States.
As of April 21, the U.S. has seen over 135 million people receive one dose of the vaccine and over 87 million people fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. But even when we’re fully vaccinated, we still need to be vigilant about masking up when around others not in our own homes or who aren’t fully vaccinated, washing our hands, following state and CDC guidelines for in-person gatherings, avoiding unnecessary travel, and physically distancing in crowds. You might still be wondering what you should do for your own personal health during this time and how this could affect your training and your runs.
We tapped David Nieman, Dr.PH., health professor at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus, Brian Labus, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and 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, and Amy Treakle, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with The Polyclinic in Seattle to help answer runners’ most frequently asked questions.
Is it safe to run outside?
Yes—and running alone is still the best way to reduce your risk. Go out for a solo run, enjoy the outdoors, and try timing your run for when you know your route or trail will be less crowded.
Getting in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to brisk activity can help your immune system keep viruses at bay. Be sure you know what’s going on in your area and if there are any restrictions or mandatory self-quarantines. And, if you’re sick or at-risk of spreading the virus, you shouldn’t go out as you could spread it to those who are high risk, such as the elderly or immunocompromised.
States such as New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut mandate self-quarantine after travel to the state from certain hotspots across the country, so while you’re indoors, Nieman suggests doing some exercise to keep healthy—doing bodyweight exercises or running on an at-home treadmill are great ways to do this if you don’t feel sick.
“Sick people wrongly think they can ‘exercise the virus out of the system’ or ‘sweat it out’—that’s a myth. It’s actually the opposite,” Neiman says.
Should I wear a mask out on solo runs?
While COVID-19 vaccinations are ramping up, CDC guidelines still recommend “people wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” (Guidelines are rapidly evolving.)
If you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC states you can do the following:
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with other fully vaccinated people of any age.
- Visit inside a home or private setting without a mask with one household of unvaccinated people who are not at risk for severe illness.
- Travel domestically without a pre- or post-travel test.
- Travel domestically without quarantining after travel.
- Travel internationally without a pre-travel test depending on destination.
- Travel internationally without quarantining after travel.
Even if you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC still warns against visiting indoors, without a mask, with people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and attending medium or large gatherings
Before those updates, some state governments, like those in California and Pennsylvania, began suggesting that everyone wear cloth face coverings when they go out in public for essential activities in order to help prevent those that are asymptomatic from spreading the disease. And many businesses around the country are requiring patrons to wear face masks to enter.
“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,” Ferrari says.
Masks only help reduce spread if used and worn correctly. 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 will be in a place you won’t encounter anyone else. There is no advantage to wearing a face covering if you are not going to be near people at all, explains Ferrari. Still, it’s best to bring one along in case of an emergency such as an accident or a stop in a store for a drink.
“Face coverings do two possible things: They contain spread from the ill and prevent inhalation in the healthy,” says Ferrari. “The degree to which they achieve these things is debated, but one thing is not: They are only really 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.”
Wearing a Buff gaiter or other moisture-wicking face covering while running as well as maintaining at least a six-foot distance (the current recommendation) from others may help cut down on droplets being spread to others due to heavy breathing if you’re in an area where you may encounter others, Nieman says. “This virus is highly contagious and transmissible, and it appears we cannot be too careful.” he says.
It’s important to note, however, that 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. (You can find a directory of state health departments here.)
Can you run outside during a shelter-in-place mandate?
Though all 50 states have begun to slowly loosen previous restrictions, as cases rise, residents in certain states or counties may be ordered to shelter in place until further notice, meaning everyone is to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible.
However, as outlined in the directive first put in place in San Francisco, for example, most shelter-in-place mandates allow for people to go outside and engage in solo outdoor activity, such as running, walking, and hiking, as long as you practice safe social distancing (stay at least six feet apart), do not gather in groups, and do not go out if you are feeling sick.
Overall, be sure to check your local public health recommendations and the current health mandates in your area found on your state and local government websites before heading outside for a workout. (You can find a directory of state health departments here.)
Should you avoid running in groups?
The WHO recently said in a live session that asymptomatic spread is still a concern. So you may still be at risk when running with others, Labus says. And, depending on where you live, there may be restrictions about the size of a gathering with those outside your home in place. All decisions to run with others are individual according to risk assessment, but if you live in an area where community spread is low, it may be safe to run with two or three other people that you trust and will be honest about any interactions or possible exposures to the virus they may have had. And, while research has linked the transmission of COVID-19 to indoor settings more so than outdoor settings, Ashish Jha, M.D., dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told NPR recently that “if somebody were right next to you and spending, let’s say, 10, 15 minutes running in that little stream of breath that you’re exhaling, there might be a risk.”
If you find yourself on a crowded route, you should protect yourself and those around you by wearing a mask, spreading out to maintain a distance of at least six feet from other runners (the current recommendation for safe social distancing) and avoiding unnecessary touching. And of course, don’t forget to wash your hands when you get back.
Should I avoid touching traffic buttons?
Though it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads, according to the CDC.
Additionally, research has found it’s likely that 90 percent or more of the virus found on a surface will be inactivated after being exposed to midday sunlight for between 11 and 34 minutes. However, there could be a problem if someone coughs into his or her hand immediately before touching a traffic button, and then you touch the traffic button after them, Nieman explains.
In general, the CDC recommends avoiding high-touch surfaces such as elevators and doors, so traffic buttons would be included. If you must touch the traffic button, do not touch your face after. Even better? Use a sleeve or elbow.
Can coronavirus be spread through sweat?
According to the CDC, transmission of coronavirus happens between people who are in close contact with one another (at least six feet) and through respiratory droplets, produced through a cough or sneeze—not sweat.
Am I contagious if I have no symptoms?
You are probably contagious right before you begin to show symptoms, but we don’t know for what time period and we don’t know how contagious. This is one thing we don’t fully understand yet about coronavirus. It’s likely that people are contagious 48 to 72 hours before the onset of symptoms, and that symptoms can develop between three and 14 days after exposure, according to Harvard Health.
So, it makes sense that you would be more contagious once you are coughing or showing other symptoms, but again, Labus stresses that we don’t fully understand transmission yet.
And, the WHO said that asymptomatic spread is still a concern in a live session earlier this summer. 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.
Additionally, it’s still unknown when presymptomatic (the time before you start to show symptoms of the virus) spread can occur, so it’s best to continue social-distancing practices, hand washing, and wearing a mask when you are in situations that social distancing will be difficult.
Physical distancing is the answer right now, Nieman says. Experts are still trying to figure out how long the virus lives on objects, but the main problem is that it appears to be highly contagious, spread easily by coughing and sneezing or loud talking, and can be spread by people who don’t think they’re sick. That’s why hand-washing, maintaining at least six-foot distance from others, and not touching your face are so important in protecting everyone.
Is my immune system weaker postmarathon or after a hard workout?
There is a very strong connection between regular moderate exercise and a strong immune system, but mental or physical stress—caused by running a marathon or a very hard workout—could slightly increase your chances of becoming ill, Labus explains.
“I would caution runners to avoid long, intense runs right now until we get through all this and just to keep things under control,” Nieman says. “Don’t overdo it. Be worried more about health than fitness.”
However, that doesn’t mean you need to quit running or exercising altogether. The long-term immune system benefits of moderate running far outweigh any short-term concerns, Labus says.
Are gyms safe for indoor training?
At this time, home workouts are still your best bet for keeping up your fitness routine and helping to ensure your own health and the health of those around you. Most states have loosened restrictions, and gyms are open—with caveats. Many require masks, distancing, smaller classes sizes, reserved time slots, and even a switch to outdoor training. But, before you go, it’s important to weigh the risks and know how the virus is spreading in your community. (You can find a directory of state health departments here.)
“If you have to do an indoor workout with others in the gym, make sure you’re masked up with the best filtering, best fitting mask(s) you’ve got,” 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, told Runner’s World previously.
And, no matter where you sweat, you should remember to wash your hands regularly, especially after your workout and wipe down all your equipment with anti-viral, anti-bacterial wipes when you are done using it.
If my race isn’t canceled, should I go?
You might be wondering what to do about upcoming local 5K, or the marathon you’ve been training for. Take a look at what the race is doing before deciding—and be sure you aren’t feeling sick. You’ll want to figure out things like size of the race and how the start is staggered or runners will be spaced out on the course. If there is a virtual option, that is still the best way to ensure the health of yourself and others.
CDC guidance states that events that involve large gatherings, especially of people who live in different households and may have traveled from different areas are high risk, especially if it’s not possible to maintain social distancing. Additionally, depending on where you live, or the race is being held, there may be restrictions on the size of group gatherings to help slow the spread.
Nieman suggests that the goal right now is to avoid crowds and gatherings of people indoors and outdoors until we know better about how the virus can spread. You can find a complete list of canceled running events here.
If my race is canceled but there are other group run events in its place, should I go?
You might be seeing group runs or unofficial races popping up in your community in place of canceled races. But any time people come together, there is a chance for the disease to spread. As counties and states reopen, there are different guidelines in place, so be sure to check your local guidelines before making any decisions. And, check for any local restrictions on gathering size.
In general, be mindful of your interactions with others and take basic steps to protect yourself. By washing your hands, limiting direct contact with others, and not touching your face, you can reduce your risk of many different infections, Labus says. Remember that, even though everyone is focused on coronavirus, flu is still circulating widely.
How dangerous is spitting while running right now?
Spreading COVID-19 via spit is possible, according to Treakle. “COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and transmission may occur when these droplets enter the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby. Spit contains saliva, but could also contain sputum from the lungs or drainage from the posterior nasopharynx,” she says.
Sorry, snot rocketeers: Treakle says shooting mucus out of your nose isn’t any better. “Having witnessed and participated in races, I think it’s appropriate to note that this would apply to projectile nasal secretions.”
And, the current recommendation of distancing at least six feet is based on people standing static, not moving fast or producing strong air currents. Those additional factors could increase the need for distance. In a scenario where someone runs into a sneeze or a cough, that would obviously present an increased risk, says Labus. That’s why it’s important to stay in your home if you are feeling sick or have been exposed to someone who is sick, in order to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus to others.
How long can COVID-19 live on clothing?
Experts don’t yet know the risk of transmitting the virus from surfaces like clothing, Treakle says. But the World Health Organization reports that coronaviruses can remain on surfaces for a few hours up to several days. If your clothing gets hit by spit, avoid touching the area, and change your clothing as soon as possible, washing your hands afterward. To disinfect clothing, wash it in hot water and use the dryer’s high setting.
It is critical to emphasize that maintaining a distance of at least six feet 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. (You can find a directory of state health departments here.)
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