Study suggests 65+ feet of social distancing for some trailgoers

Hikers at Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Jerilee Bennett; The Gazette

Following the recommendation to wear masks in public places, many Coloradans had questions about whether or not this applies to the trail. It does. And while it might not be convenient or conventionally practical to wear a mask while exercising or enjoying nature, a Belgian-Dutch study shows why wearing a face mask on the trail is important when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Though America is currently operating under a six-foot social distancing recommendation, this distance may not be enough to do the trick. A study conducted by KU Leuven (Belgium) and TU Eindhoven (Netherlands) produced results that indicated the distance between individuals should be much larger in order for the threat of viral transfer via droplets to be effectively diminished. This distance gives time for the droplets to fall.

As someone passes through a space, they may leave droplets of COVID-19-carrying moisture behind in their ‘slipstream.’ While these droplets will eventually fall to the ground, this is not immediate. This puts those directly behind a potential carrier at infection risk. By increasing the space between two moving individuals, it increase the likelihood that dangerous droplets will have time to fall to the ground.

When it comes to walking, scientists considering results of the study are recommending four to five meters (13.1 to 16.4 feet) of distance between those moving in the same direction. Runners and slow bikers should allow 10 meters of distance (32.8 feet), and fast bikers should allow 20 meters (65.6 feet) of distance. The study also suggests that standing near someone in a breeze can pose additional risk, as wind can carry particles and hold them in the air much longer.

By wearing a mask while on the trail, these droplets are prevented from going airborne. Thus, wearing a mask while exercising and practicing extreme social distancing can help protect those behind you. Keep in mind that many COVID-19 infected persons are asymptomatic, but still able to transmit the virus to others through speaking, coughing, and sneezing.

Read more about the study here.


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