Inhaling, exhaling, smokers, sneezers, bad breath, olfactory nerves, coronavirus and you

When I see runners up and down the streets of Chicago who are not wearing masks, I repeat the same line: “How fucking irresponsible.”

Perhaps runners think, “I must be healthy. I show no signs of disease. I obviously don’t have a respiratory illness; I’m running and my lungs feel fine!”

Or maybe a collective apathy toward self-protection is on the rise.

Or maybe runners are assholes.

I’m a runner. Runners push air from their lungs with much greater force than walkers. And from what we know of the spread of this respiratory disease (e.g. here, here, and here), inhaling droplets infected with the virus is one of the quickest ways that it spreads.

Not only am I breathing out harder, I’m inhaling deeper. This puts my risk level higher, I would imagine.

My runs have been between one and two hours, and I’ve worn a mask the entire time or most of the time. If I’ve pulled down my mask to help catch my breath, it’s because I don’t see anyone around and I feel I can do so. But at street corners or passing another biker, runner, or pedestrian, I pull my mask up. It’s a curtesy to them and a precaution for me.

Do I feel like some masked vigilante at times with my sweat-soaked bandana swinging around my neck like a turkey waddle? Yes. Does it make it difficult to breathe at times? Yes. But it’s not impossible.

During the run, I also try to sense which way the wind is traveling. If I’m running into the wind, I make sure my mask is pulled up. I wonder how far droplets surf on invisible wind waves and a neurosis take over my brain.

One of the thoughts that keeps coming to mind is the distance cigarette smoke travels from a smokers exhalation. This is an unscientific observation. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been outside somewhere, and I smell cigarette smoke long before I see a smoker. I look around and sometimes they are 30 to 50 feet away. Maybe more.

Or you exit a building where smokers are huddled 15 feet from a doorway and you suddenly remember the bar scene before January 1, 2008.

Again, not scientific, but the smoke I’m smelling is coming partly from exhalation. Does that mean I’m recognizing the possibility of droplets because one of my senses is recognizing it? I mean, minutes after someone smokes pot, you can smell it. Hell, sometimes a bathroom carries an odor of its previous occupant for up to how long.

Is olfactory sensation an indication of airborne droplets?

Just this week, I was cooking a garlic-y meal. I had to take my dog outside to go pee. Outside, I could smell garlic. When I walked back in the front door on the first floor, it became much stronger. Walking through the front door one flight up, garlic slapped me in the face.

We can’t smell halitosis from certain distances, but if we had dog noses, could we? And what would that mean for the length of time droplets can float before gravity pulls them to the ground?

Science has recognized that sneezes throw droplets farther than we can really measure. Runners exhale with great force. A cough also pushes out air with force.

We can all relinquish care and assume we are all going to get the virus. And maybe that is driving the drop in mask use around town. Or maybe I’m misinformed and need another lesson what is and what isn’t safe.

I guess one point I’m trying to make is: if you could smell coronavirus like you can smell cigarette or pot smoke, would more people wear a mask. Would it make it more real if one of our available senses could identify it?

Just a thought or two to start your Saturday.

Thanks for giving me a platform to express my neuroses and curiosities.

Oh, and wear a fucking mask.

2 thoughts on “Inhaling, exhaling, smokers, sneezers, bad breath, olfactory nerves, coronavirus and you

  1. I quite agree with you. In our neighbourhood runners and cyclists are so selfish. Long after they have gone past me, their breath still hangs around.

    1. These are the groups that need to be wearing them the most. If I’m walking with my mask down and I see a biker approach, I pull it up as fast as I can.

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