COVID-19 Denver Question: What's the Risk From an Unmasked Jogger?

A screen capture of an Instagram video of an unmasked Denver-area jogger sans social distancing.
A screen capture of an Instagram video of an unmasked Denver-area jogger sans social distancing. @forrestlsmith
Despite the extension of Denver's stay-at-home order over COVID-19 to April 30 (and Colorado's as a whole to April 26), plenty of local residents continue to congregate in popular public places. Moreover, the majority of these people aren't choosing to wear masks, despite recommendations by both Governor Jared Polis and the federal Centers for Disease Control that face coverings be used. And based on an informal survey conducted this past weekend, joggers, runners and cyclists are among those least likely to cover their nose and mouth.

How much risk does this place on another unmasked person, especially if the exerciser passing by doesn't maintain the recommended amount of social distancing?

This question was raised by a Westword reader, who recently wrote: "You guys should seriously consider 'reminding' the public not to be assholes. Joggers not respecting social distancing would be one example.... We know that simply breathing can spread the virus. We also know that early data suggests up to half of the spreaders may not be symptomatic. Yet one can’t walk a Denver sidewalk without having to dive for cover from a jogger who won’t move. City and state leadership seem clueless. ... This is a pandemic, right?"

To get a better sense of the potential dangers involved, we reached out to Heather Burke, a communications pro with Denver's Joint Information Center. Burke, corresponding via email, acknowledges that a jogger passing close by a pedestrian would technically "be a violation of the order of encroaching within that six-foot limit of another person. But that interaction is so brief it likely would not be dangerous. It would be more of a risk if either person is actively coughing. It's really no different than situations you find at grocery stores — passing people in aisles."

Burke adds, "The stay-at-home order does allow people to exercise, and everyone should use their best judgment. People who are exhibiting symptoms should not be in the public space exercising."

Her advice for the rest of us: "If someone is concerned about potential exposure while exercising outside, they should try to avoid the situation and find a safer place to exercise. If they see a jogger encroaching, they can step to the side to avoid the person. Our enforcement team can’t be everywhere at once, unfortunately, so we must rely on our residents to do the right thing and be conscientious when exercising in the public space."

Wearing a cloth face mask — because others may not be — is a good idea, too.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts