You Can Still Catch COVID From Doing This Outdoors, Experts Warn

You should still wear a mask when you're doing this outside.

At this point in the pandemic, you've probably heard Anthony Fauci, MD, warn that "outdoors is always better than indoors" more times than you can count. Per that advice, many people have taken to spending time outside more often than ever to reduce the chance that they'll catch COVID. But while being outdoors drastically reduces your risk of contracting the virus, it can still spread in certain situations if the proper precautions aren't taken. If you figured a quick trip to the park wasn't something to worry about, medical experts have a new warning for you. Read on to see when you might need to mask up where you weren't before, and for more on what could increase your risk of catching the virus, check out If You've Done This Recently, You're 70 Percent More Likely to Get COVID.

Someone who's out exercising could very well have the virus but be asymptomatic.

couple running in fall

During an interview on Good Morning Britain on March 2, Trish Greenhalgh, PhD, an expert in primary health care at Oxford University, pointed out the risk of runners and joggers potentially infecting walkers and others around them with their exhaled droplets. "There is no doubt the virus is in the air. There is no doubt you can catch it if you inhale air that someone else has exhaled," she warned.

A major cause for concern comes from the relatively high likelihood that someone out exercising could be contagious but not know it. "Forty percent of COVID cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms," Greenhalgh explained. "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." And for more on how you can stay safe, check out These 3 Vitamins Could Save You From Severe COVID, Study Finds.

Exercise leads to a lot of exhaled droplets.

Curvy multiethnic young women jogging together on city bridge

Greenhalgh explained that the deeper, stronger breathing of runners is what makes it particularly concerning. "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 said.

This is especially an issue if runners opt for a busier area where social distancing may not be possible. "It really depends how close they are to you and how heavily they're breathing," Devi Sridhar, PhD, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Good Morning Britain. "This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think—I do think where am I running and I'm trying to be attentive to pedestrians because the sidewalks are there for pedestrians in busy areas and high streets." And for more on when we could see another spike in cases, check out This Is When We Can Expect the Next COVID Surge, Experts Say.

If you're somewhere more remote, you can go maskless.

Young adult riding a bicycle through the city wearing face mask against COVID-19
Kleber Cordeiro / Shutterstock

If there are fewer people around, joggers can feel more at ease. "[When] you're out in the park, take off your mask and run freely," Sridhar recommended. "I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We're in a pandemic and just, you know, think how it feels for other people. So if you're going to [run or] cycle in a busy area, wear a mask." And for more COVID news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

But covering your face when you do pass others is still important.

mature black woman in pink shirt and man in blue shirt riding bikes
Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Sridhar's recommendations fall in line with current guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that anyone working out should "limit high-intensity activities to the outdoors" while also advising that people wear masks in public settings and when "around people who don't live in their household."

Experts such as Anthony Fauci, MD, point out that using a face covering that can easily be pulled up when approaching others should suffice. When asked about wearing a mask while out outdoors during an appearance on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah in September, Fauci replied: "No, not necessarily, but you should have [your mask] with you in case you come into close contact with people outside. If you're alone and there's nobody near you, and you're riding your bike, you don't need to wear a mask." And for a sign you need a new mask, check out If You See This on Your Mask, the FDA Says Toss It Immediately.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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