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Do you need a mask to exercise indoors?

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In an attempt to help keep the number of novel coronavirus cases low, masks are officially required in indoor spaces in several regions across the country.

These bylaws are consistent with recommendations by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

In areas where COVID-19 is spreading, health experts agree that wearing masks or other face coverings in public helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus when people can’t physically distance by staying two metres (or six feet) apart.

Read more: Why some people still refuse to wear masks

However, there continues to be some confusion about when it’s recommended that masks be worn and when they may actually be of little practical value.
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Should you wear a mask when you’re outside jogging, running or cycling? And when your gym reopens and you can move exercise inside, should you wear one?

Below, medical experts answer your questions about mask-wearing and exercise.

Do I need a mask when I’m exercising outdoors?

If you’re going for a run or bike ride outside, you generally don’t need a mask.

“You generally won’t be coming close enough to a person to acquire the virus or transmit it to them (outside),” said Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious diseases and infection control physician at the University Health Network in Toronto.

“And the ventilation … there’s nothing better than being outside, because the virus won’t survive very long and will be dispersed quickly if there is a spray event.”

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The only time Vaisman recommends a mask outdoors is if you’re going to be in a situation where other people may be in close proximity to you — like waiting in a line to get into a restaurant.

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“If you can’t guarantee that people aren’t going to be able to stay away from you for a prolonged period of time, it makes sense to wear a mask,” Vaisman said.

Dr. Leighanne Parkes, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, agrees.

Read more: Does wearing a face mask pose any health risks? Not for most people

“If you’re outdoors and maintaining physical distancing as much as possible from those around you, not wearing a mask is completely reasonable and likely to be more comfortable for the person engaging in the exercise — particularly in 40-degree heat,” Parkes said.

Parkes encourages people to stay outdoors as much as possible.

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“You have unlimited air changes. The air is going to gust those droplets away, diffusing and diluting the concentration of the virus in the air around an individual,” Parkes said. “The risk of transmission is much lower than if you were in a closed, poorly ventilated space.

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“The solution to pollution is dilution.”

If you’re at high risk of having been exposed to the coronavirus, you should definitely wear a mask if you have to go outdoors — but you probably shouldn’t be near other people in the first place.

“If you’re considered high risk, you probably shouldn’t be in a place where you could run into other people,” Parkes said. “You shouldn’t be out and about in the world because you don’t want to infect your fellow neighbours.”

Do I need a mask at the gym?

As gyms begin to reopen, experts recommend that gymgoers wear a mask to protect themselves and others around them.

“I think, indoors, the question becomes: are you able to reasonably keep distance from people?” Vaisman said.

“And at the gym, people are rapidly moving around. You can’t predict where somebody’s going to go … and it’s filled with narrow, tight spaces.”

Read more: These are the most likely and least likely ways to spread COVID-19

For those reasons, Vaisman says a mask is a good idea.

However, if you were in an exercise class in a large room with a few people and everyone’s actions were “predictable,” he says a mask may not be necessary — especially if they aren’t mandated by your local public health officials.

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Parkes also recommends mask-wearing during exercise in indoor spaces.

Read more: Should masks be mandatory? It depends, experts say

“Any time you’re in an indoor space where you don’t really know the nature of the ventilation, where you’re going to be engaging in any activity that’s going to augment the number of potentially infectious droplets you’re going to produce … wearing a mask is a layer of protection,” Parkes said.

“That’s what it boils down to: these multiple layers of protection.”

At the gym, these include physical distancing, good hand hygiene, adequate cleaning of shared equipment and mask-wearing, in addition to good ventilation.

“There are all going to play a really important role to prevent transmission,” Parkes said.

Will sweat make my mask less effective?

There are some ways exercise can affect the way a mask works.

“Definitely, if the mask is moistened, it’s less effective,” Vaisman said.

“Try to avoid moistening your mask and if it does get moistened, you should replace it and get a new one.”

Parkes also recommends bringing extra masks to the gym, in case the first one gets too sweaty.

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Read more: Mask myths, debunked — No, wearing a mask won't 'shut down' your immune system

Meanwhile, physical distancing and good hand hygiene remain key for eliminating the spread of COVID-19 in a gym setting.

“Making sure you’re using hand hygiene more frequently — like every time you touch a new machine, you should wash your hands in between use,” said Vaisman.

Ideally, Vaisman said, there would be single-use equipment. If that’s not possible, he says the multi-use equipment should be cleaned prior to each time a new person uses it.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca