You don’t need to feel guilty for running in a pandemic

As the Covid crisis continues, some pedestrians are worried about heavy-breathing runners, but what does the evidence say about transmission outdoors?

Runner on a path

by Staff |

Whether it’s people being handed fines for travelling to meet up for a walk or the Prime Minister being spotted on a bike seven miles away from home, the appliance of pandemic lockdown guidelines is a hot topic right now.

Runners aren’t exempt from this increased scrutiny being placed on those engaging in their “daily exercise” under the UK governments’ guidelines.

As with the first lockdown, a minority on social media are complaining about runners going past others breathing heavily. However, should we feel guilty for going out for a run?

It has long been recognised that the risk of transmission of coronavirus outdoors is much lower than for indoors.

Muge Cevik, a researcher in infectious diseases, this week posted on Twitter a lengthy discussion on the risks of spreading or catching the virus outdoors. She wrote in part: “Contact tracing studies suggest that transmission risk is 20 times higher in indoor settings compared with outdoor environments.”

The University of St Andrews physician, who has acted as an advisor to the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland and the World Health Organization, added: “The small number of cases where outdoor transmission might have occurred were associated w/close interactions, particularly extended duration, or settings where people mixed indoors alongside an outdoor setting.

“Therefore, outdoor risk is negligible unless it involves close interaction or you are in a crowded or semi-outdoor environment. For example, walking on the street with no f2f contact, or passing by a jogger, the risk is very low as the duration of interaction is brief.”

Further, a report commissioned by parkrun and published in September 2020 which reviewed available scientific papers concluded: “There are very few examples of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in everyday life, suggesting very low risk.”

Of course, that does not mean that it is impossible to spread or catch coronavirus while running outdoors. It’s also worth bearing in mind one review which wrote for background: “While risk of outdoor transmission of respiratory viral infections is hypothesized to be low, there is limited data of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in outdoor compared to indoor settings.”

Most importantly, runners need to respect the rules that are in place and respect others’ personal space.

Current UK government guidance for England, which mirror those for the other home nations, say you should keep 2m apart from others not in your household or bubble. It adds: “Where this is not possible, stay 1 metre apart with extra precautions (like wearing a face covering).”

Remember that runners tend to move much more quickly than walkers. Therefore, we have more time to get out of the way of other users of paths and trails, particularly as we might be upon them before they’ve realised.

In short, running - like all exercise - is great for our physical and mental health. While government and their scientific advisers allow it, we should keep it up - of course with adherence to social distancing and other guidelines.

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