Is It Safe to Return to the Gym? Will It Ever Be?
One of the businesses deemed “nonessential” when closings started happening recently was workout gyms.
That’s because people often work out in close proximity to each other. And multiple people can touch the same machines in a short period of time.
Those in the habit of working out in gyms regularly remain disappointed. Few now have access to the types of amenities gyms offer.
While most gym-goers understand the closings, they’ve been anxious to return. Some gyms are finally opening up again. Others will soon. The big question is, are they safe?
COVID-19 infections are still occurring at alarming rates in the U.S. As of this writing, more than 1.5 million Americans have tested positive and over 90,000 have died.
State and local officials are trying to determine how to reopen businesses to jump-start the economy. While simultaneously attempting to keep people safe.
This balancing act is causing considerable disagreement. Gyms are among the businesses chomping at the bit to reopen.
Many gym patrons want to throw open all the doors. But some other people are concerned that reopening gyms will cause a surge in infections.
By their very nature, gyms are places where germs feel at home. A study published by the National Library of Medicine shed light on this. Twenty-five percent of surfaces tested contained drug-resistant bacteria. Or flu virus and other pathogens.
Dr. James Voos is chairman of orthopedic surgery at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
He told the New York Times this. “When you have a relatively high density of people exercising and sweating in a contained space, you have conditions where communicable diseases can spread easily.”
Many of the workout machines in gyms have metal components. The coronavirus can live on metal surfaces for five days.
Dr. Deverick Anderson is director of the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention.
He says dumbbells and workout machines are “high-touch metal with strange shapes and many different places people can grasp.” That makes them difficult to clean.
“People are going to have to understand and accept that there will be some risk” of virus infection when they return to gyms.
But he also added there are “many steps people can take to mitigate those risks.”
Anderson recommends cleaning weights, bars, benches, machine rails and knobs before use. Don’t assume the previous user took care of that.
He suggests carrying at least two clean towels. One can be kept over your shoulder to wipe sweat from your face. So that you’re less likely to touch it. The other could cover the bench or yoga mat you’re using.
Anderson said wearing a mask while working out might not help much. It will dampen during exercise, reducing its antimicrobial benefits.
“What it comes down to is that the risks will never be zero,” he said. But there are mental and physical benefits to workouts. “So, my approach is that I will accept some risk. But (I’ll) be aware of the steps I need to take to mitigate it.”
The owner of a gym in Atlanta has suggestions for other gym owners and patrons. His gym is normally frequented by personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Radford Slough says there should be a hand sanitizer station for gym-goers near the entry and exit doors. And they should bring their own water bottles.
Patrons should be able to sign in without touching anything. And employees should stand behind a sneeze guard or wear facemasks.
The gym should have plenty of spray bottles with disinfectant that meets EPA standards against the coronavirus. After a surface is sprayed, wait a minute before wiping it with a clean cloth.
Social distancing within a well-ventilated gym will help. Treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes should be moved six feet apart.
We’ve all heard stories about businesses defying orders to remain closed. Gyms have been no exception.
10X Fitness in Lackawanna County in Pennsylvania shut its doors March 19. Due to Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.
But owners reopened the gym during that shutdown. They received several citations from local police. They closed up shop again after the fourth one.
A Facebook post from the gym read like this. “Unfortunately, due to citations, we will have to close our doors once again until further notice. In preparing to take this unprecedented stand, we did expect these consequences.”
There were restrictions in place while 10X Fitness was open illegally. Hours of operation and capacity were cut in half. Workouts were limited to one hour.
Gym owners recommended – but did not require – patrons to wear masks. They were also asked to wash their hands before working out. As well as to use hand sanitizer regularly. And wipe down equipment before and after use.
As of this week, some businesses in Pennsylvania are reopening. But gyms are still closed.
Wolf said nonessential businesses that reopen too soon are taking undue risks with the safety of their customers. “That is not only morally wrong,” he said. “It’s also very bad business.”
Gyms will reopen. It’s just a matter of time in some states. But they will look different. Only time will tell if they’ll be safe.