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Summit County doctor, cyclists contextualize how to properly recreate during shutdown

Importance of recpath, along with potential dangers, discussed

Alison Casias of Dillon wears a face mask while running along the bike path in Dillon on April 17. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of personal protective equipment while exercising outdoors is being encouraged by health care professionals.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Summit Daily archives

DILLON — With the “stay home” message pervading social media during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic shutdown, active Summit County residents have wrestled with the proper way to recreate outside.

For many residents, exercising outdoors is a way to keep their mental health balanced. Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos understands this, as she said in recent days she’s been getting more and more calls from people going “stir crazy,” including parents with kids restless from all of the social-distancing and health restrictions intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Ebert-Santos says she highly encourages local people to recreate outside not only for their mental and physical health, but also because if they exercise — running or biking on corridors like the Summit County recpath with the proper precautions — she says there is little danger to spread the virus.

On Friday she pointed to discussion points on a virtual panel she listened into with University of Colorado School of Medicine experts. The 6-foot rule that has become the effective rule-of-thumb during the pandemic, Ebert-Santos said, is not heavily researched and is based on how far large droplets travel in the air before they fall to the ground.

She said though small droplets can stay aerosolized much longer, there is so much space in Summit County she’s not terribly worried about the kind of potential spread that might be seen in more urban parks.

“I don’t think there’s any concern about that,” she said. “And there’s another study they quoted in this meeting I was listening in on this morning. In Singapore, they had 137 health care workers who were exposed to COVID patients without personal protection equipment in the early weeks. Of those healthcare workers, only 35% developed symptoms and only 2% tested positive. But here’s the thing: the ones who actually got sick were exposed for an average of 120 minutes and they were exposed — directly involved in — procedures that caused aerosolization of droplets, such as nebulizer treatment or intubation. So that’s a pretty intimate thing. That’s not going to happen on a bike.”

The hypothetical danger of spreading the virus while cycling on a corridor like the county’s recpath has been a topic of debate in recent weeks online. Summit County residents have read information such as a Dutch University study that suggests a much larger distance is necessary between heavily-breathing recreators, namely cyclists, to avoid spread.

The simulations the scientists analyzed suggest runners and cyclists in one another’s slipstream of increased aerobic output could ingest pathogens at a distance within 4-5 meters for walking, within 10 meters for running and slow biking and within 20 meters for faster biking.

Breckenridge pro cyclist Taylor Shelden, who was out riding on the recpath last week, said the theory made logical sense to him, though he qualified that he, of course, isn’t a scientist. An avid fat biker in the winter, Shelden said he almost always rides his fat bike with a buff on and has been riding solo with one during his recent outdoors rides when he’s not cycling on his Zwift virtual training app at home.

Shelden said he recommends people wear gloves and a facemask or buff, he also encourages them to ride shorter, solo self-sufficient routes if and when they bike outdoors. He said though he’s seen good practices thus far from fellow Summit County cyclists, he doesn’t want the community to ruin the good thing they have going — he has pro cyclist friends in Spain and other parts of Europe who, by law, are currently not allowed to cycle outside.

Mark Simms of Boston, Massachusetts, uses a set of rings to perform pull-ups while exercising outdoors on Friday, April 17, in Dillon. With both recreation centers and gyms closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark says he is looks for alternative ways to exercise, both outdoors and indoors daily.
Jason Connolly/ jconnolly@summitdaily.com

Ebert-Santos said she doesn’t buy into the Dutch study. That said, she feels it’s important people wear face masks or buffs when recreating on the recpath corridor.

“Even if it’s not necessary, as the contact is so fleeting,” Ebert-Santos said, “I think it’s a sign of respect to our fellow community members.

Ebert-Santos said many of the patients she’s seen with COVID-19 symptoms have spread the disease within the confines of their homes, to other family members and friends and she believes being outdoors is imperative to proper social distancing and mental health. That said, she also feels people should not cross county lines to recreate right now.

More on COVID-19


The latest Summit County news, how to protect yourself and local resources.

JT Greene, co-owner of Wilderness Sports in Dillon, said cycling interest has been higher during the shutdown than the shop was expecting. Gravel bike demand has skyrocketed in recent weeks. 

Like Breckenridge Recreation Center Sports Coordinator Vince Hutton, Greene has worn a buff and pulled it up and over his face when passing people on the bike path. After 200 miles on the recpath in recent weeks, he said he’s seen really good distancing on the path.

He’s also happy the county and towns got the path open when they did. He actually was drafting an email to those entities about opening earlier when their opening announcement came out. It was music to his ears as he knows the importance to the recpath’s community of users.

“I think with distancing, the biggest thing right now while riding bikes is to say ‘hi,’” Greene said. “That little bit of that two seconds of human interaction is awesome and definitely uplifting.”


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