Should cyclists be wearing masks on rides?

In some countries masks have been mandatory outdoors for many months (including while exercising and riding a bike). In Canada, the messaging about outdoor masking isn’t exactly clear. Quebec semi-requires it and in Ontario, outdoor gatherings currently aren’t allowed, so the questions of masks during outdoor gatherings shouldn’t even be a discussion. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, recently tweeted that joggers should keep a mask on in areas where physical distancing is hard to maintain.

According to a recent New York Times article, the share of COVID-19 transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below one per cent and may be below 0.1 per cent.

Steven Rogak, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in aerosols, says that data on outdoor transmission is hard to find. That being said, most experts agree that the transfer of the COVID-19 virus from one person to the other in an outdoor setting is “highly unlikely,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

What should cyclists do?

“Unlikely” doesn’t mean impossible, and certain activities that involve spending prolonged periods of time in close proximity to others will increase the risk of virus transmission.

Rogak says that cycling in a peloton is at the higher end of outdoor transmission risk, although he stresses that those outdoor risks are extremely low. His suggestion for mask wearing during a ride? “If your health district is allowing indoor dining at restaurants, they should be ok with you cycling unmasked in a group. If you are wearing a mask on a group ride, it would not need to be a very efficient one because the concern would be larger droplets, not the finer aerosols.”

Currently, case counts vary wildly across the country. While some places are in a state of emergency, others have had none or very few COVID-19 cases for months. If there are no clear policies in your region, the personal decisions you make about wearing a mask when riding with others should be based on the current situation in your area.

The good news is, more Canadian cyclists are getting vaccinated daily and, hopefully, we will soon see the number of cases decrease.  “As we get to very low case counts, the risks from formerly risky activities disappear,” says Rogak. “You aren’t going to catch COVID from people who don’t have COVID.”

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