Healthy Runner: Gaiters – Masks and Life in the Slow Lane

by Benita Zahn

I suspect that by now you heard the story about how gaiters are not only no good at protecting against coronavirus, but may be worse than wearing nothing over your face. That would have been your takeaway, recently, from a very small study out of Duke University. How small? ONE PERSON – ONE GAITER. Sheesh!

Bad enough there’s confusion and anger over mask wearing but to add this kind of nonsense is, frankly, irresponsible. The researcher should have said to a colleague, “Hey Bud … I’m not seeing good protection from this gaiter, how about we construct a good experiment to see if I’m right before we throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Sigh – yes that would have been the responsible thing to do as so many runners are favoring gaiters because they’re easy to use while on a run. Gaiter up when you’re near people, gaiter down when the road is clear. On my recent vacation, I ran with a mask that I did the up and down dance with. Ear loops can slip off at key times. That doesn’t happen with a gaiter.

So, what’s the real deal – do they or don’t they protect?

Turns out they do. In fact, one of the Duke researcher says, “ NOOOO I DIDN’T MEAN FOR YOU TO TAKE AWAY THAT GAITERS DON’T WORK.” Martin Fisher, an associate research professor at Duke who co-authored the study, says that wasn’t the point of the study. I’m still trying to figure out why, then, the findings were published. I know, publish or perish – the way of the world in academia. And in fairness, they looked at a variety of masks and the way they tested them all yielded the gaiter results. (And the study was designed to show how to evaluate masks and face coverings not HOW the items being tested, worked.)

But research from Virginia Tech, has a different outcome. It studied gaiters and found they perform similarly to cloth masks. And if you double over a gaiter it performs very well. I suspect that’s because most gaiters are single layer and we know from many studies double layer cloth works almost as well as the triple layer paper surgical masks. (Not the N-95 masks used in a medical setting – those provide the most protection, but you wouldn’t be able to comfortably run in one and we should leave that supply for the medical workers who need them.)

Keep in mind, when the mask gets wet, as it will, it loses its effectiveness. If you use a paper, surgical mask, toss it after that long, sweaty run. If you wear a cloth mask, into the washer it should go. Same for the gaiter you may now be favoring. Masks made of polyester aren’t a good choice because they’re less breathable and moisture builds up quickly.

And please, keep your hands off the front of the mask. It makes me cringe when I see people fuss with the front of the mask. That’s where the virus or other germs collect, which is why it’s recommended you wash your hands after taking the mask OFF. It’s also recommended you cleanse your hands before putting on the mask, so you don’t ‘infect’ it with any germs you have come in contact with.


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