Study about distancing guidelines for runners amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Spring has sprung, and along West River Parkway, the runners are back. 

"It's not perfect out here," says Steve Banks of Minneapolis. "You got bicycles around; you've got other runners around. You got walkers. So we do what we can." 

But this is no ordinary Twin Cities warmup. 

Runners are learning to social distance and give space to others, during the COVID-19 threat. 

"This is surreal," declared Minneapolis runner Greg Simpson. "If somebody had told me it would be unhealthy to run, or there'd be some risk of getting a disease by running, I would have thought they're crazy. But here we are." 

A new study by a group of Dutch and Belgian researchers finds that for runners, six feet of social distance may not be enough. 

"Our safety bubble of 6 feet is fine when we're sitting still," University of Minnesota Medical School Professor Bill Roberts explains. "When you're moving, there's probably some bad air behind you that extends further back than 6 feet."

The study says that runners and brisk walkers can create a draft, like a tailwind.

Exhaled droplets and sweat can trail behind a potential germ carrier, up to 15 feet or more. 

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"I would still recommend people run alone or in pairs and separated, but I wouldn't run in packs, Roberts says. "It's not as easy to have a social run when you take this Netherlands study into account." 

Runners who spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS say they get it. 

"If they have a strong shampoo or any kind of deodorant, you can smell it," Simpson says. "So I imagine there is a cloud of droplets on people. There's a few bottlenecks along River Road, and you get to the bridges and stuff where you really can't maintain 15 feet, even six feet is too much." 

Both Simpson and Banks say the majority of runners and walkers are conscientious about their surroundings and make concerted efforts to maintain social distancing. 

Still, 15 feet may be a challenge. 

"I think everybody tries to give everybody a wide berth," Banks says. "I believe in science. If the pros are saying we need 15 feet, then I'm going to do what I can to do 15 feet."

A new normal for athletes, as the paths and trails beckon. 

"Most of the time you can distance yourself," Simpson adds. "If you come up on someone who's walking, they'll generally get off the path because they don't want to be near us. We don't want to be near them."