You’ve been dutifully wearing your fabric face mask in the grocery store and at the park to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, but do you need to cover up when you’re running outside? The answer depends on where you live, where you’ll be running, and your personal tolerance for risk. While some cities and states require face masks to be worn in public spaces, in many cities (including New York City) running and biking are exempt from the rule — as long as you remain at least six feet away from other people. This may be possible in less crowded areas or if you’re running at unusual times, but it’s often hard to maintain social distancing if you’re jogging on a popular route.
As Strategist writer Liza Corsillo reported in her very thorough face-mask roundup, doctors say face masks made from thick, tightly woven cotton are best for blocking virus-containing particles. They recommend holding your mask up to the sun or another bright light and seeing how much light passes through. The less light you see, the more filtration your mask provides. Unfortunately for runners, however, the more effective a mask is at blocking particles, the harder it is to breathe through.
Some runners choose to bring a mask with them, but only pull it on when they’re near other people. “We’re advising people to have one on them while running, but not run with it on, unless your city or state says it’s mandatory,” says Jay Ell Alexander, owner and CEO of Black Girls Run. On the other hand, Amir Muhammad Figueroa, co-founder of Harlem Run and a research scientist in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University, takes a more cautious stance. Although he hasn’t been tested for COVID-19, Figueroa says, “I act and proceed as if I actually have tested positive,” always opting to wear a mask when he could come into contact with others. “If you’re not around people, you could use your own discretion,” he says, and take into consideration how likely you are to cross paths with another runner on your route.
Updated August 10: In light of a new study out of Duke University, we removed the Buff neck gaiter from our story. Although the Buff was the mask recommended to us by the most runners, the study found that “gaiter-type neck fleeces” actually break up large respiratory droplets into many more smaller droplets, releasing a larger number of droplets into the air than if you were wearing no mask at all. Smaller droplets also remain airborne longer than larger droplets (which fall to the ground more quickly), so wearing this type of mask could actually do more harm than good. We’ve included more traditional mask options below.
As our resident mask expert, Corsillo has tested more than three dozen masks. She likes this one “a lot,” she says. “It’s a little hot, but it’s moisture-wicking and the fit is really good.” Plus, it passes the light test and has room to add a filter.
While Corsillo calls these masks “very breathable,” they’re also porous and allow light to pass through. Still, she says, “I do think they are better than nothing.”
Specifically made for running, this mask allows for some light to pass through, but it also has two layers of fabric for an added bit of protection. It’s soft, stretchy, and easy to breathe through, so it feels like it’d be a solid running option.
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