Should masks be enforced during PE?

Images provided by author. Top: Students warming up in P.E.

As we transition back into in-person learning, students are adjusting to measures against Covid-19. One of these measures is mandatory masking for everyone attending school, students and staff alike. While mandatory masking is still a controversial topic, the population at Washington High School is very nonchalant about masking and seems to be adjusting just fine. However, how are our physical education courses dealing with mandatory masking, given the common belief that masks affect our breathing? 

For an insight into physical education masking, we talked to the ever-friendly Mr. Edwards, a PE teacher and varsity coach of Washington High School’s football team. “Ideally it’s not something everyone wants to do,” Edwards explains. “We are in a world pandemic and when you’re in a pandemic you have to adjust to what life throws at you. And for the most part, the kids are adjusting. I don’t get any complaints and I think, over time, the kids have gotten so used to it that it’s like second nature to them.” When asked whether it was right to do PE with masks, the teacher responded by saying, “I’m not in the position to judge if it’s right or wrong. We make adjustments, meaning we’re not asking kids to run the mile in the masks. We’ve adjusted to let’s just get some cardio in; we can do a lap, a lap and a quarter. We kinda build the students up to getting used to running in the masks, so whether it’s right or wrong that’s not up to me to judge. If it’s going to keep my kids safe and return them to their parents and there’s a lesser chance that we can spread something, I’m all for it.” 

Students in PE wearing masks and playing fleetball.
Students in 5th Period PE warming up.

We also asked students their own personal opinions about the masking situation in PE. Aljon Repancol, a junior at Washington High school, tells us “I don’t think it’s right because most students have a hard time breathing, especially the asthma students, and it’s really hard to breathe in PE class, especially during running and during sports. And I think there should be no mask rule in PE but I still understand why you need the masks for PE, but it’s not right for PE because people need to breathe to be active.” Another student, Daniel Xie, a junior, has a differing opinion: “It’s ok; it’s a little hard to breathe but you get used to it.” We then ask Daniel if it’s right to have masks in PE and he, with no hesitation, said “yeah!” 

With these differing opinions, you can conclude the student body understands the masking rule in place during PE, though thoughts differ on whether it’s uncomfortable or not.

But apart from how Washing High School feels, how do health professionals view this issue? There has actually been testing done to see if face masks affect breathing during exercising. A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which has the approval of Harvard Health, shows breathing through a mask doesn’t affect our health at all during exercise. Researchers asked subjects, on three separate occasions, to perform cycling exercises until exhaustion. Each exerciser wore either a surgical mask, a cloth mask, or no mask at all. The results show no difference in oxygen intake, carbon dioxide level, and heart rate between all three situations regarding what’s on the face. The study busts the common belief that masks have a significant effect on our breathing and will affect our daily fitness routines in both personal and school settings.

While it is uncomfortable at times to have masks on, especially exercising, it won’t affect our breathing much, if at all, and ultimately mandatory masking keeps everyone a safer distance away from the chance of getting Covid-19. 

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