The Air We Breathe

Initially I had no intention of weighing in on covid precautions and outdoor exercise. After all I’m not a scientist, epidemiologist, virologist or medical doctor. I do not have a background in public health. I make no claims to be an expert or specifically educated in any of those fields. However, I feel the need to impart a little clarity because of comments I’ve seen and posts shared by runners in multiple online forums. Many of which border on a slight misunderstanding of the science but occasionally some cross over into outright misinformation.

Naturally in times of chaos and uncertainty we search for answers. As human beings, we want to know that what we are doing is safe and right. As runners, we want to know that our actions are without risk. The truth of the matter is, even in normal circumstances, experts don’t have all the answers to every question and in life there’s no such thing as an absence of risk. But there is comfort to be found in the information we do have at our disposal. The principle question, is it safe to go about running and training outside in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, has been answered multiple times with a resounding yes.

So I will instead focus here on some misconceptions primarily stemming from incorrect or unproven assumptions about how the virus is spread. The goal in safety should be maximizing precaution by focusing on what is a real threat to your health. Going above and beyond those precautions is of course not a bad thing, but hysteria and paranoia over theories that have no scientific backing, ultimately does more harm than good. Harm such as pulling our attention away from the measures that really make a difference, stoking fear where its unwarranted and needlessly complicating or confusing every action to the point that none is taken.

I’ve compiled here 5 articles and a Facebook post from a pathologist. I invite you to read each in their entirety, but I’m highlighting here specific sections that I think offer clarity and dispel myths on how the virus is spread, with a particular focus on outdoor running. These selections all come from different experts in the field but you’ll notice there is a great deal of overlap and agreement among them. That, I believe, speaks to the credibility. I have also gone to considerable lengths to abstain from offering my opinion. Instead, I hope you will read and draw your own conclusions.

The first article I’m including, was posted in the Oiselle blog and I believe, it is the most comprehensive on the topic. As such, if you’re only going to read one thing today, I’d encourage you to read this full article. To do so please go here, but for those who desire the cliff notes version, here are some highlights:

The second article published in the New York Times on April 1st, outlines why virus risk must be considered from the lens of viral load. The full article is linked to here. A highlight from:

The third article appeared April 8th in The Globe and Mail, written by Alex Hutchinson, well known and well regarded author of the novel Endure. It specifically discusses the incredibly flawed Medium post that was widely shared recently and loosely based on an experiment from Bert Blocken, an expert in aerodynamics. The full article by Hutchinson can be found here. A small cursory highlight:

There’s another such take on the so called Medium post/Bert Blocken “study” that surely found its way into every running group on social media without peer review or so much as a shred of informed and considered evidence. This take was posted to Facebook by Dr. Jennifer L. Kasten, MD, MSc (Oxon), MSc (London). To read the full post please go here. A small highlight:

The fourth and fifth articles are written Q&A style based on interviews with epidemiologists. This one from the New York Times and this one from Gothamist. Two highlights, one from each article:

None of this is meant to downplay the seriousness of the virus, nor is it intended to advocate for an abdication of proactive measures towards safety. What I hope these insights provide is some guidance on where to focus your precautions in these challenging times. Please always run solo or only with a member of your immediate household, keep your distance from others as much as possible, don’t touch your face and wash your hands frequently. As time passes, I will endeavor to update this post or simply compose a new post when any new information becomes available that has a scientific consensus. Until then, stay safe and keep running!

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