Note: Everything in this post could change very quickly. We’re doing our best to stay up on current guidance, but we’re not public health experts, so please follow recommendations from your local government and the CDC.
We know that not everyone can self-isolate indefinitely, at some point you might need to go outside and ride a bicycle to go to work, get groceries, support neighbors and loved ones, or use being active and outside to support your mental and physical health needs.
Should I Wear a Mask When I Bike?
First, here is a summary of our Biking during COVID-19 post:
- Ride alone, or with your household. The absolute best thing you can do is keep physical distance between you and anyone not in your household.
- You are responsible for the safety and health of everybody around you. It is clear that many people have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. It is best to assume that everyone, yourself included, might be asymptomatic.
- Ride less trafficked routes or times.
So Yes or No?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. If you can, the best thing you can do when outside is still to keep your distance from others not in your household and avoid overcrowded areas. If you are in an urban environment where social distancing is difficult, it’s probably a good idea to wear a bandana, neck gaiter, or other covering —make sure it fully covers your mouth and nose. A mask can do a lot of good in keeping yourself and others safe with correct user behavior and if they are worn properly and made with proper materials.
There is a lot we don’t know about how the virus spreads through the air, especially when you add people breathing deeply and moving. Acting overly cautious and giving a wide distance is a good idea. But there is a lot of speculation, scientific theories and dubious studies circulating as well. We’re not going to add to pronouncements about distance and what precisely is safe because we do not have any medical or public health background. There is a great Washington City Paper article about exercise here and Bicycling magazine also has some great coverage that both interview actual experts.
Here are some additional things to consider:
Masks are not perfect. If your mask is not cleaned properly, if you are constantly taking it off or touching it, if you take it off improperly, the mask can increase your risks. The other common way masks can spread COVID-19 is by making people feel overly secure. Wearing a mask is not a substitute from keeping physical distance if possible. Here are the CDC recommendations for using a cloth face mask and for social distancing.
There is a whole lot of make-it-up-as-you-go-along and better something than nothing. Most popular face coverings are based on what is commonly available or that people have at home, and has not been subject to rigorous flow testing. We do know COVID-19 is commonly spread by aerosolized droplets so having something that stops droplets from you going very far does make a lot of sense. Do coffee filters work? Cut up nylon stockings? There is some previous research into homemade face coverings for filtration. A decent place to start is here, and the CDC guidelines, which includes an ASL mask tutorial.
Masks change our behavior. Masks are a great reminder to not touch your face, keep distance from other people and remind others to keep their distance.
But, masks may change how others perceive you or how you perceive others. What people assume about a person wearing a mask is not the same for everyone. People are bringing their own lived experience into their decisions about mask-wearing. You or others might choose to not wear one because of fear of violence and that is completely valid. Racism is real. Since December, there has been a huge rise of anti-Asian hatred based on the incorrect assumption that any Asian person must be COVID-19 positive. People of color, particularly young black men, are especially vulnerable to racial profiling, discriminatory practices, and increased policing while wearing a mask.
But what about everybody else?!
Pandemics are scary. We are all experiencing this pandemic slightly differently and coping differently. Some people are hyper-focused on work, childcare, hobbies, reading a lot of pandemic coverage or no pandemic coverage, some folks feel completely calm and others are grasping for the things they can control. The loss of certainty over what you know is terrifying, and there are real public and personal health impacts to the decisions made by others. This lack of certainty and control can often manifest itself in telling other people what to do. This makes conversations about masks, especially on the internet, extremely challenging.
We encourage folks to follow instructions from health and local government officials. But telling other people what to do can be problematic, especially when it intersects with race, gender, and other lines of oppression. Shame and guilt tripping are not effective persuasion techniques. Additionally, as we mentioned above, people bring their own lived experience into their decisions about mask-wearing. Confronting, yelling at, or calling law enforcement on your neighbors does not build trust. And at worst it can bring financial and bodily harm to others.
Please be thoughtful in how you engage with your neighbors. We need to support, nurture, and love our communities during this time of COVID-19.