By Dr. Johnathan Edwards
Having written a previous post about how the coronavirus has impacted the sport and our ability to ride, we came back to “Doc Edwards” to ask his opinion on riding with a mask which we have seen many local riders doing.
Should cyclists Wear a Mask While Riding during the COVID-19 Outbreak?
Whether or not cyclists should wear a mask depends largely on where they are riding and if there are other people around. Mask misdirection is everywhere nowadays (with a little clarity interspersed). No magic exists from a mask preventing the spread of a virus.
To explain just how small the Coronavirus is – human eyes are not capable of seeing a tiny bacterium. If we theoretically put eyes on a bacterium, they too would be unable to see a virus. It is important to think about the Coronavirus existing in droplet and aerosol forms. If you shine a strong flashlight in a dark room, you will always see tiny particles floating in the air (aerosol); perfumes are also aerosols and consider how easily they disperse in the air long distances. The same is true for the Coronavirus. When you sneeze, tiny water droplets exit your nose. Basically, the virus is ubiquitous, there’s no avoiding it. The goal is to decrease exposure, because it’s impossible to eliminate.
Why are we even wearing masks? The recommendations for masks when social distancing is difficult (i.e. going into a bike shop) stems from increasing evidence that the coronavirus can be spread by asymptomatic carriers. The primary benefit of wearing masks is that you will protect others if you are infected. Springtime bring seasonal allergies and sneezing, which is an efficient method for broadcasting Coronavirus droplets. Wearing a mask can decrease the movement of those droplets — going out and coming in — which is why it may be beneficial for everyone to wear them. Essentially, the mask acts as a barrier in two ways: for those that are infected, it can prevent disease transmission, and for those that aren’t, it can decrease their risk.
Many bike paths and trail systems have experienced an increase in cyclists and runners. Cycling solo on the open road poses little risk of being exposed to or giving the virus. If the trail is packed with bikes, consider taking more precautions. If you stop, and there are people around, this might be a good time to don a mask. Riding with a “buff” or neck gaiter over the mouth and nose is a reasonable option for wearing masks outdoors.
Cycling with a N-95 mask outdoors is going to be not only uncomfortable but defeats the purpose, because a cyclist will be inclined to remove it. N-95 masks filter out 95% of the tiny particles, but fit tightly and can restrict breathing during exercise. Furthermore, sweat and environmental stress will destroy the mask. In any case, leave the N-95 masks for health care workers battling the Coronavirus. From personal experience, my hospital does not have enough N-95 masks to protect us as it is.
Some people have complained about increased difficulty with breathing while exercising and wearing a mask. Most often it’s the increased CO2 that they are rebreathing. That is an uncomfortable feeling when exercising. Some riders try to train this way, but cannot do it for too long.
Should you ride side by side or behind each other? A recent video from Eindhoven University in Belgium did a wind tunnel experiment that showed aerosol particles blow right into the path of the rider behind, versus not as much if you are riding side by side. So, if you are riding behind someone who sneezes, you are getting both droplet and aerosol doses of the virus.
* If you are not feeling well or you have the virus, stay home and take care of yourself.
*No group rides or congregating on trailheads or parks
* Give plenty of space on the cycling trails
*Remember the enemy of good is perfect. As much as we would like to think that masks are helping us, masks are not perfect, but they might help. Hopefully, we will all attain immunity to the Coronavirus, and we can get back to life. For now, as we band together and show solidarity, that may be the most powerful tool against this situation.