A: Unfortunately, yes. While we appreciate the importance of exercise for our physical and mental health, there HAVE been documented instances of COVID-19 spread in gyms and fitness studios, and they are home to one of the conditions that makes transmission easier: a lot of shared indoor air.
In the infographic below from Fraser Health in Canada, we can see a case example where just TWO group fitness studios resulted in 67 positive cases and a cascade of isolation and quarantine keeping folks from work and school. But what makes something as innocent as a fitness class so far-reaching?
It’s helpful to think through the SMART principles when considering how COVID-19 might spread in a gym:
**SPACE**: Let’s be honest – we’ve all gasped for air in the middle of a tough workout. In these times, that means pushing air and droplets even farther across the room, and thus needing more physical distance.
**MASKS**: Masking up is KEY to increasing safety in gyms – while most require masks, there are of course places that don’t enforce this or folks who take their mask off for a particularly tough set, creating a risky situation.
**AIR**: Fresh air is safer, but gyms don’t have a lot of it. Some gyms may have had the luxury of upgrading their ventilation this year, but often those tiny cycling rooms and cozy yoga studios aren’t bringing in enough fresh air to reduce transmission.
**RESTRICT**: Keeping your social circle small can be complicated by visits to the gym – even your beloved gym community members might be taking more risks than you would be comfortable with when they’re not working out.
**TIME**: Shorter is safer, and while there’s no “magic” number of minutes that can keep you safe, that 45-minute cardio boxing workout is probably not short enough if you’re considering the CDC threshold of 15 total minutes to be considered a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
A few public health experts tackled this same question in a recent piece from NPR (link below), emphasizing consistent mask use and physical distancing indoors as a particularly important component of safer gym workouts.
They also note the challenge of indoor ventilation – how do you know if you are in a well-ventilated space? The air quality expert quoted in NPR notes that most air filtration systems STILL don’t make an indoor room as safe as the outdoors.
And last, but certainly not least, this article reminds us of the foundational question to activities during the pandemic: **WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF DISEASE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?** As places around the U.S. and beyond are experiencing new surges, it’s likelier that someone with COVID-19 may unwittingly wander into your gym and spread the virus.
Even with all that, it’s not easy to say “GYM = BAD.” We know there are tremendous benefits to exercise and the sense of community that fitness studios can offer, and we empathize with the many gyms that have bent over backwards to lower capacity, improve ventilation, and increase physical distance. But if you don’t feel like you can stay SMART while at your local gym here are a few ideas to help support your studio in these tough times:
💪 Keep your regular fitness membership, if you can afford to do so
💻 Look to see if you can purchase online classes to work out from home (and share the offerings with friends and family so they can sign up, too!)
🏋️♀️ Have a favorite instructor? Find out if they offer virtual personal training and pay them directly
👟 If your gym has a merchandise shop, consider stocking up to help support the gym while adding to your at-home workout gear
Stay safe, stay sane,
Those Nerdy Girls