The Puget Sound region is no longer blanketed with wildfire smoke, and there’s sun in next week’s forecast. It seems many Seattle Times readers are itching to get out for a walk or run but are worried about getting peppered with the respiratory droplets of others who are doing the same. The question comes up regularly when we ask what you wonder about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, so we’re looking into it for this week’s FAQ Friday.
Another topic that comes up nearly every week for FAQ Friday: testing. This week, we’ll briefly explain the various types of tests related to the coronavirus, and the differences between them.
Can you get infected with the coronavirus while on a run or walk outside?
Public health officials have said time and again that being outdoors while visiting with friends and family is better than being indoors, where SARS-CoV-2 has proven effective finding victims where respiratory droplets and finer particulates called aerosols find a much friendlier environment.
How does that advice translate to common outdoor exercise like walking and running?
There are many things working against the virus outdoors, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University told the online publication Vox.
“Outside, things like sunlight, wind, rain, ambient temperature, and humidity can affect virus infectivity and transmissibility, so while we can’t say there’s zero risk, it’s likely low unless you are engaging in activities as part of a large crowd. Solitary outdoor exercise is likely low-risk,” she said.
Runner’s World magazine also suggests running alone. But it’s best to bring a mask in case you encounter other people, Dr. Matt Ferrari, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, told the publication.
The more distance you can put between you and other runners, the better, according to Gregory Poland of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, who studies immunogenetics at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“A runner who doesn’t yet know he’s sick running in front of you is likely to infect you with the slipstream behind him by around 30 feet,” Poland told MarketWatch in August. “At six feet, the largest respiratory droplets have settled out onto the ground.”
What tests are used for the new coronavirus?
There are three tests for the virus, the most common being a diagnostic test that detects an active infection.
For infection detection, there are two types of tests, genetic and antigen. Most people are getting genetic tests where a nasal swab is used to collect material for a test that looks for SARS-CoV-2’s genetic material.
Antigen tests are also used to confirm an infection. These tests are newer, and they’re faster but less accurate. Specimen collection is also done with a nasal swab. Instead of identifying bits of the virus’s genetic material, the antigen tests find proteins on the surface of the virus.
The other test being used is an antibody test, which looks for past infection. The antibody test is done with a blood draw to find out if a person has the proteins the body manufactures to fight off an infection. If these proteins are present, it means the person had COVID-19 at some point.
It isn’t yet known how effective antibodies created to fight COVID-19 are or how long that protection lasts. Other coronavirus antibodies can last one to three years. The state Department of Health and UW Medicine are conducting a statewide antibody study, or serological survey, to determine how prevalent COVID-19 is across the state.
Assistant metro editor Gina Cole contributed to this report and information from The Associated Press is included.
You can read last week’s FAQ Friday, which compared death rates for COVID-19 and the flu, at st.news/covid-faq-0918. If you have a question you haven’t seen addressed in The Seattle Times’ coverage, ask it at st.news/coronavirus-questions or via the form below.