How to exercise safely under the new health order that requires masks |

How to exercise safely under the new health order that requires masks

With many people working from home and spring weather rolling in, the Yampa River Core Trail has become crowded with bikers, runners and dog walkers. To follow state and local guidelines, it's best to wear a mask while recreating along the busy corridor.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a new Routt County public health order in effect that requires employees and customers to wear facial coverings, new questions are being asked about how to safely stay physically active.

Yes, exercising outside is still allowed and encouraged to help maintain mental and physical health during the stay-at-home order; however, there are a few things that people should keep in mind while being active in public.

Do I need to wear a mask while running or riding?

Yes, but not always. 

If recreating on the Yampa River Core Trail or another popular place where many people congregate, you should wear a mask. If riding or running on a less crowded county road, then a mask probably isn’t necessary. Most trails and walkways in town have been packed with people, so a mask is needed. 

“It’s not a hard and fast rule that you must always wear a mask,” said Lauren Bryan, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “If you’re going to be in a high density situation, then you certainly need to be wearing a mask.”

Sure, it’s uncomfortable, and moisture will probably build up, but wearing a mask while outside your home is following guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Finding the right fabric might take some experimenting. Thick fabric won’t breathe well, so a buff made of material made for activity might be best. 

To avoid the discomfort, the best thing to do is find a rural area to exercise where a mask isn’t needed. 

“You just have to have that situational awareness of how many people am I going to potentially be in contact with,” Bryan said. “Make your decision from there.”

Do I need to be farther than 6 feet away from other runners or bikers?

No, but it doesn’t hurt. 

Whether walking, standing, running, rollerblading or biking, the standard for social distancing is 6 feet. That is based on the fact that the novel coronavirus is spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

While exercising and breathing heavily, those droplets can be aerosolized or sprayed into the air. Since a cyclist or runner is moving briskly, those droplets can potentially travel farther behind them than if they were walking. Many cyclists and some runners frequently spit or blow “snot rockets” — habits that should be avoided, especially on populated trails and roads. 

Keeping your distance from other bikers and joggers is advised but easier said than done.

“I think those things are easier to say in theory than in practice,” Bryan said. “You try to pass or that sort of thing, and it’s tough, especially when you’re on a crowded trail like the Core Trail.”

A study and ensuing articles about how far these particles can travel has been circulating the internet. According to an article from WIRED, the study was self-published by a Belgian-Dutch research team and hasn’t been peer reviewed or picked up by any scientific journals. 

“It’s all theoretical. It’s all done in a vacuum,” Bryan said. “It’s all done without wind and without those sort of things. When you do those experiments, it’s not what realistic conditions are outside. 

Do I need to sanitize my equipment?


As long as you’re the only one riding your bike and wearing your helmet, there’s no reason to wipe down handlebars. If you share equipment with someone you’re self isolating with, odds of contracting or spreading COVID-19 don’t increase. As always, follow the CDC guidelines, wash your hands often and don’t touch your face unless you know your hands are clean.

“As long as you’re not handing off your water bottle to one person or another, you’re pretty safe if you’re the only one handling your bike,” said Bryan. 

Some bike shops are open by appointment for seasonal repairs and tuning. When bringing a bike home from a shop, there’s no need to harm the equipment with harsh disinfectants. Instead, Bryan suggests leaving it out in the sun to air out for a day or two. 

Other things to keep in mind

While exercise is encouraged even during the stay-at-home order, cyclists shouldn’t ride risky. Whether it’s on the road or on a hillside, cycling comes with a certain level of risk. Right now is not the time to go to a hospital and not only risk exposure to COVID-19 but use precious time and resources that could be used for infected patients.

Another thing to think about, especially those going for longer runs, is that there are no public bathrooms open. All public restrooms are closed and the port-a-potties that are usually placed at frequented county road intersections by Routt County Riders are not there and won’t be for awhile. 

Businesses with public restrooms, such as fast food places or cafes, are no longer open to provide that basic service either. Bathroom breaks need to planned.

Every year, Routt County Riders pays to have about a half dozen portable toilets placed at intersections frequently used by cyclists. Due health restrictions brought on by COVID-19, no portable toilets or public restrooms are available, so bikers should plan accordingly.
Routt County Riders/Courtesy

Routt County Riders Executive Director Laraine Martin said her organization planned to put seven port-a-potties around the county, but due to COVID-19, they won’t be put on the roads until other public services, such as restaurants, resume normal business. 

“We were joking with the (Routt County Multi-modal Transportation Committee) that we need to reach out to the community and tell them to skip the morning coffee or make sure they visit their flushing toilet before they go out for their long ride,” Martin said. “But it’s kind of not a joke.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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