Bike riders take note: Masks now required outdoors when close to others

Solid masking behaviors at a bike ride last month.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

We’re in a strange phase of this pandemic: Infections and deaths are going up while many peoples’ familiarity with the virus and eagerness for normalcy is causing them to let their guard down.

This is definitely true with the local bike scene.

After all but shutting down in-person rides and events for the past few months, things are coming back to life. People are hosting group rides again and I’ve seen an uptick in informal group training rides with people rolling along in the traditional shoulder-to-shoulder paceline style — with no masks in sight.

As we all try to make the best decisions for our own health and the health of others, I want to make everyone is aware that as of yesterday (7/15), the Oregon Health Authority issued new guidance (PDF) about the use of masks. Here’s the part about being outdoors:

This guidance applies statewide to: The general public when outdoors, when at least six (6) feet of distance cannot be maintained between others outside of an individual’s household.

But there’s also this part that could apply to bicycling:

“Customers and visitors of businesses and of indoor and outdoor spaces open to the public are required to: Wear a mask, face shield, or face covering unless the individual is under 12 years of age, except as follows…

Masks, face shields or face coverings are not required when at an outdoor space open to the public and engaged in an activity that makes wearing a mask, face shield or face covering not feasible, such as strenuous physical exercise… if at least six (6) feet of distance is maintained from others.”

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(Goofy gif of my masking technique with a Biciclista US Laser Mask.)

Personally, the recent infection data and this new guidance has caused me to be even more vigilant about mask-wearing while riding.

When I’m in the city and/or in residential neighborhoods I always wear a mask. Even though I can ride in the middle of a street far away from any people, I never know when someone might cross my path like a driver with their window down, or someone crossing or walking nearby. As I get into more rural areas, I keep my mask at the ready.

For more rigorous “training” rides that get me into suburban/rural areas, I’ve finally figured out a new system that works well. I use an ear-loop mask with a minimalist design (I use and can recommend the “Laser Mask” from Portland-based Biciclista US) and I put it on under my helmet straps. This allows me to easily pull the mask down when I don’t need it. The cool fabric and minimal design of my mask makes it hardly noticeable when not in use.

Riding on the Marine Drive bike path is a great example of using this system. I can see far ahead and it’s wide open, so I don’t wear the mask the whole time. As I see someone approach, I lift the mask up until I’m alone again.

As for fogging up glasses, I’m still working to perfect that. It happens much less in warmer temps because the outside air is closer in temperature to my breath. I also find a bendable nose piece keeps my breathe from getting onto lenses.

How have you been doing with the mask issue?

It’s definitely not awesome to wear one while biking, especially in this heat! But we’ve got to beat this virus and right now wearing a mask is our best weapon.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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axoplasm
axoplasm
2 years ago

I’m skeptical of the “exception” for strenuous exercise…if I’m breathing hard, I’m probably spewing droplets more than 6 feet.

I’ve been doing daily rides early in the morning. How I’ve kept covered has become more strict since March, when at 6 or 7am I was the only person on the road. I usually wear a neck gaiter or bandana, I lower it when I’m climbing or working hard but otherwise keep it on all the time. Yes my glasses fog up. It is worst with a fitted cloth mask, best with a buff or bandana if I tuck it under the bridge of my glasses

PTB
PTB
2 years ago

So if we ride by an open car window and it’s occupant that’s all it takes to catch this virus now? That fleeting moment that lasts a fraction of a second? Because if that’s what it takes I’m pretty sure we’re doomed. I’m up for indoor masks and even an outdoor mask if I’m standing around people (food carts, line outside the grocery store, etc). I’m on board!
But it still sounds like it’s all about location, time and proximity to a carrier, and viral load. Fear of someone crossing your path is too much.

PTB
PTB
2 years ago

Fair enough, Jonathan. I, like everyone else, want this shit over with. It sucks and I hate it. I’ve just heard a couple stories now of people that have been snapped at because of not having a mask on when outside. I don’t think this is helpful and really unnecessary. Recently on a run a guy stopped short, hard, as I approached him (he was on the sidewalk and I was not). Barring me grabbing this guy, deeply tongue kissing him, then his dog (for good measure I guess), he was going to be fine. We were outside, the trees were swaying in the breeze, it was a goddamn beautiful night, no need for the theatrics!

Pat
Pat
2 years ago

1. Masks are not preventative, they are risk reductive.
2. The level of anxiety that makes you justify wearing a mask in such low risk situations probably outweighs the health risks of contracting Covid.
3. If you knew anything about fluid dynamics you’d know you create a slipstream behind you while riding. If you sneeze while riding, your sneeze is going right back into your own face. It’s not going to jump 8 feet in front of and 6 feet to the left of you and “attack” someone.
4. Neck gaiters are typically made of thin materials and when stretched, they become a “cheese grater” for the air droplets you exhale and become smaller. Smaller air droplets travel further than larger ones. So by wearing a neck gaiter you’re turning the larger droplets that would have existed had you not worn any mask into smaller ones which can travel further and stay in the air longer creating more of a risk than had you not worn any mask.

The other Fred
The other Fred
2 years ago

I find that just using a bandanna works well. Pull it down and let it hang around my neck when no one is around, pull it up and cover my face when i’m in proximity of others.

raktajino
raktajino
2 years ago
Reply to  The other Fred

I’ve been doing this when cycling or hiking as well. It’s easy to adjust with minimal contact with the mask surface (important) and is easier to drink from my hydration bladder tube than a regular mask. It doesn’t fit or filter well enough that I’d want to wear it in any sort of indoors or prolonged proximity situation, but that’s why I have multiple masks. 😀

Scott Sallay
Scott Sallay
2 years ago

COVID-19 spreads by prolonged contact to respiratory droplets and possibly by prolonged exposure to aerosols. I will conservatively define prolonged as 5-10 minutes.
There is zero risk of getting infected or spreading infection while riding a bicycle outdoors. Exposure is transient and virus is immediately diluted by the volume of air and any air movement/wind.

The previous order only included indoor business spaces. The risk of infection outdoors is very dramatically lower than when indoors. The problem is when people crowd together for prolonged times when outdoors. This update addresses this issue.

Everyone is rightfully anxious and on edge and individuals should certainly continue to do what they feel is safe for themselves. However, no one should expect or scold cyclists, runners, and even pedestrians to wear masks.

Paul
Paul
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott Sallay

There is still way too much uncertainty with this new disease to say anything so definitive. While your description of how the disease usually spreads is most likely correct, there is enough uncertainty that precautions are warranted in a wider range of circumstances. Consequently, bicyclists and pedestrians should wear masks unless consistently far away from others.

Andrew Squirrel
Andrew Squirrel
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

The problem I see is not enough nuance in the conversation. We keep on dealing with polar opposites on the safety spectrum. We have idiots who are downright refusing to wear a mask ever even indoors and then zealots that think passing by someone for a fraction of a second outdoors is going to infect them then flipping out. In reality its most likely to happen indoors when spending long periods with them (even while wearing basic cloth mask) or outdoors, no mask, in close proximity and having extended conversations be it on bike or in a park. These brief glancing passbys in public parks are not causing a spike in infections and should be treated as such.

PdxPhoneix
PdxPhoneix
2 years ago

All very reasonable, though you’re talking about some nice gray and people just love to see issues as completely black/completely white, as it were. Sadly, subtle nuances are often lost on people.

Paul
Paul
2 years ago
Reply to  PdxPhoneix

It’s all about probability. To make up some numbers, if you spend an hour in a closet with an infected person, maybe there’s a 10% you catch the disease (plenty of ways it could happen). If you briefly pass an infected person on the street, maybe there’s a 1 in a million chance (a drop of spittle happens to fly out of their mouth at that moment and land in yours). But wearing a mask is so easy, you might as well eliminate that 1-in-a-million chance. Especially if you are doing this frequently, passing thousands of people on the street. Those small chances can add up.

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  Scott Sallay

Cite your definitive reference for paragraph one? Outdoors feels safer but there are cases with no known source. It’s tricky. I don’t wear a mask riding alone on the street but the idea of drafting a bunch of people– brrrr.

I’m trying not to live in fear but also trying not to be the one who transmits it to 11 other people. Some don’t survive. Others have weeks in the hospital, a million dollar bill and scarred lungs. Maybe you’ll be asymptomatic but pass it to your mom?

In Oregon we’ve been relatively fortunate, no freezer trucks full of bodies, yet. That doesn’t mean that caregivers aren’t crying in the driveway every night.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago

I’ve been using a Buff for running and cycling. Had one for years for backpacking. They are multi-functional, and can easily be pulled up when you pass someone. I’m pretty sure the risk of catching it when blowing by someone on a trail is minuscule, but it at least makes people around you more comfortable.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 years ago

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of my wearing a mask is not to prevent me from getting sick, but to help me from getting you sick, in case I’m inadvertently carrying the virus? Until we have a cheap, reliable testing regime of everyone 24/7, do we know who has the virus right now? Apparently those who are showing symptoms are only a small portion of the total number of infected, according to several recent studies. Most sick aren’t even aware of it.

Should everyone who is driving a car should be wearing a mask, as well as their passengers, including people who are poor and who cannot afford masks, as well as dog walkers, runners, bicyclists, police with batons, medics, the homeless on the street, etc? How shall we deal with the (potentially infected) masks that are already littering our streets and choking our wildlife?

Welcome to the world I’ve been living for the last 10 years without health insurance: I never know when my next disease or illness will kill me, be it flu, swine flu, the common coronavirus (cold), e-coli, mold, hay-fever, acid-reflex, heart disease, obesity, cancer, or covid-19 (or more likely dying due to the resulting hospital bill which will bankrupt me).

On the plus side, this has been one of the longest periods in my life when I haven’t gotten a cold, flu, or have been otherwise dreadfully ill. I’ve never seen our public transport and super markets so clean you could almost eat off of their floors. And as I’ve been social-distancing for most of my life, I for one am not looking forward to returning to our previous grubby existence.

Dead Salmon
Dead Salmon
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Why no health insurance? Can’t you get Obamacare? Or is it too expensive?

rf
rf
2 years ago
Reply to  Dead Salmon

have you ever shopped for private health care?

mark smith
mark smith
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Yes, thank you for exposing the Insanity.

Andrew Squirrel
Andrew Squirrel
2 years ago

All data so far has shown that if you are traveling solo and keeping a safe distance for extended periods there is very, very, very low likelihood of infection. Outdoors if you are not wearing a mask and you are passing someone also without a mask for a fraction of a second it is near impossible to infect them. This all goes out the window when going on a group ride where your chatting and keeping close proximity, best practice to wear a mask. I just want to be completely clear that it is not ok to scold someone if they are traveling solo and dong their best to keep distance. https://youtu.be/n6QwnzbRUyA

Bikeninja
Bikeninja
2 years ago

A lot of people are missing the point when they focus just on themselves and dissect the mask order in to tiny bits. The countries that have essentially defeated the virus have had very high compliance with public mask wearing, inside and out. That is why places like Mongolia, Vietnam and Taiwan are essentially virus free now and are returning to normal life. At the same time our infection rates are increasing at a geometric rate nearly everywhere in the U.S. Sure our public policy on the national level is a shambles, but at least it is somewhat focused on the state level. If we keep going down the road of prioritizing individual needs and theories instead of the big picture public good our infections will keep increasing until the coronavirus is endemic. We could be in a such a bad place for so long that at the end of it we won’t be worrying about stimulus payments, cops or bike lanes and instead we will be worried about who has the best stick to hunt rats with.

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
2 years ago
Reply to  Bikeninja

Doesnt the psychopathic shrew actually hold patent on your favorite meme ?

Pat Lowell
Pat Lowell
2 years ago

My personal balance:
– I always wear a mask in indoor public spaces
– I wear a mask if I’m outdoors and will be talking to someone (e.g. at a gas station or curbside pickup)
– I don’t wear a mask when running or riding on the road, but I ride at off-peak times and I avoid crowded places (Springwater, Council Crest, etc.). I pass with as much space as possible, and I hold my breath and turn my head away. If someone passes me and doesn’t get far enough ahead, I’ll slow down or stop to put distance between us. I stay 6 feet back at lights.
– I’m still not doing group rides, even with “social distancing rules” in place. It’s tempting and makes me sad not to, but I just don’t think being in general proximity of other riders for several hours is safe. (And if I’m far enough away to feel safe, then I’m basically just riding by myself anyway.)
– I bring a mask when hiking, and I will pull it up if I’m passing people. I’ve stopped trail running because I don’t like running with a mask, but trails are too narrow to not wear a mask.
– In a pinch (if I’m riding/running or forgot a mask), I’ll pull my shirt up over my nose. If I get to the grocery store and forgot a mask, I won’t go in (unless they’re handing out masks).

Shawn
Shawn
2 years ago

The largest study of this issue found only a single instance of outdoor coronavirus transmission out of 1245 instances, and it resulted from face-to-face conversation. Based on this, wearing a mask while cycling does not seem indicated.
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.04.20053058v1.full.pdf

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  Shawn

While I fully support the conclusion that outdoor transmission is extremely rare, keep in mind that contact-tracing in these situations would be very difficult. If you test positive, they are going to ask about people you came into close contact with recently. Do you know the names of all the people you encountered on the Springwater trail last week? The people you shared a MAX train with?

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
2 years ago

As I read this rule (and similar) – on the face of it – I could see that a health authority could require e-bike riders to use masks vs. a conventional pedal cyclist…due to the “strenuous” aspect of physical exercise exclusion being absent.

qqq
qqq
2 years ago

If I’m understanding the guidance, the exception to the mask requirement for people engaged in activities such as strenuous exercise isn’t needed. The guidance says you only need to wear a mask outdoors if you can’t stay 6′ away, so saying people doing activities that make mask wearing not feasible don’t need to wear one if they stay 6′ away makes no sense. If strenuous exercisers are 6′ away, they already don’t need a mask, and if they’re not 6′ away, the exemption doesn’t apply.

Mike Murray
Mike Murray
2 years ago

I’m wearing a mask much of the time not because of the activity being particularly dangerous in terms of disease transmission but more to normalize the use of masks. The more people see others wearing masks the more likely they are to wear a mask and the more likely they will have one on when it is needed.

B. Carfree
B. Carfree
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Murray

I’ve had six neighbors tell me they started wearing masks in part because they see my wife and me always wear ours when we go out.

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
2 years ago
Reply to  B. Carfree

Youll be perfect for student council when hair grows below. Enjoy scouting for now Lars.

dacker
dacker
2 years ago

I’ve been riding solo, which is boring. I really miss my Sunday group rides; they normally provide me the motivation to train on the modest mountains near my house. The length of my solo Sunday rides are way down from when I’m riding with a group.

Racer X
Racer X
2 years ago
Reply to  dacker

Just rent a nice garage to live in and form your own Tour De France bubble…everyone can only leave the building as a single peloton! NO excuses!

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
2 years ago

Mask. . .innoculation. . .boxcar. But Bubby, why did they get on the train ?