An independent report commissioned by Parkrun using data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) from March 2021 has found the risk of transmission of Covid-19 at an outdoor sporting event such as Parkrun to be “vanishingly small”.
Using ONS on the prevalence of the virus, alongside antibody levels within the population, the study found that, on average, were Parkruns to have been open in March this year, at 30% of events there would not have been be an infectious person present, and at events where an infectious person did participate, there would have been an average R value of only 0.057.
The report was developed by Professor Clive Beggs at Queen Mary University of London, who ran a computer model through 10,000 simulations of an average 263-person Parkrun event. Using worst-reasonable-case estimates for the number and duration of human contacts, Beggs found that 0.015% of runners potentially acquired a Covid-19 infection.
Parkrun said that due to the vaccine roll-out and decreased levels of infection, its events that return from 5 June should already be safer than the model predicts.
The study also found the risk of infection is even smaller at the start line of events such as Parkrun than during the event itself. It said this is due to the significantly lower breathing rate of participants prior to running in the “relatively short” time when they are gathered together.
Beggs found that for 10,000 model simulations and 2.6m participants simulated, only one infection would occur on the start line.
Parkrun said this finding suggests that race measures such as wave or staggered starts are unnecessary, especially when mitigation measures that minimise the amount of time participants are gathered are introduced.
It added that the research has called into question the validity of a previous high-profile wind tunnel study which showed that particles of the virus could be spread behind runners.
Beggs said the wind tunnel study, which represented an “unrealistic worst-case scenario” did not simulate real-life conditions and did not consider factors such as the average breeze or winds. He added that it did not take into account the turbulence due to the changing position of runners, and the fact they change direction frequently.
He said, “Our analysis was undertaken using Covid-19 prevalence levels for March 2021, and the results revealed that Parkrun events are likely to be very safe. This finding appears to be supported by the evidence from the various road races that have been held around the world during the pandemic, which have been characterised by a noticeable lack of infectious outbreaks.”
He added, “Based on this, it would seem to me that running events are probably already safe in the UK, and getting safer every day as prevalence falls and the vaccine rollout continues.”
Parkrun chief executive officer Nick Pearson said, “We asked Professor Beggs to use only very conservative numbers for his modelling, to try and create a worse-reasonable-case scenario. And it is clear that, even with this cautious approach, the risk of transmission of Covid-19 at an outdoor event like parkrun is vanishingly small.
He added, “I believe the implications of this report are huge for how we view the risks associated with running events and outdoor sport in general. The chances of any infection at all taking place at organised, risk assessed, outdoor events are in fact minimal, even with up to a few thousand participants. We must use data and evidence to inform decision making, and understand that a growing body of evidence does now exist around outdoor sports events such as parkrun, which clearly demonstrates that these events are safe.
“The benefits, particularly now, of getting active, together, far outweigh the close-to-zero risk of virus transmission in outdoor settings. As we look toward the summer, it is vital that we do everything we can to welcome back parkrun events, and get the nation back on its feet, positively impacting the health and happiness of ourselves, our friends, our family, and those around us.”
Former chief medical officer for England, and current master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, Professor Dame Sally Davies said, “I welcome this report by Professor Clive Beggs, which is a remarkable and reassuring step forward in our understanding of outdoor transmission of COVID-19. parkrun communities should take confidence from the findings that walking, running, jogging or volunteering at parkrun is likely to be very safe.”
She added, “Now, more than ever, we need parkrun to improve our nation’s public health and happiness. Our wellbeing, physical health and mental health depend on us being active and being together, in line with the government’s guidelines and parkrun’s COVID-19 Framework.”
The full report can be found here.