How Can Gyms Reopen Safely During Coronavirus Pandemic? Here’s What Health Experts Say

In March, gyms and fitness studios closed due to the new coronavirus. But now, some states are looking to relax guidelines, which raises the question: How can gyms reopen safely?

In the U.S. Guidelines for Re-Opening America Again released in mid-April, gyms—along with movie theaters, houses of worship, and sit-down dining—are listed as part of Phase One in the three-part reopening plan, with the stipulation that they must “adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols” in order to operate. There was no set date on when these phases would start; rather, it’s up to states and local officials. They’ll be using criteria like a 14-day downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases, hospital availability, and whether or not there’s “robust” testing in place for at-risk workers in their area to determine whether or not they’ve reached those phase benchmarks.

Following the release of those guidelines, some states have quickly moved forward with plans to re-open gyms. Georgia allowed gyms and fitness studios to open back up on April 24, as long as they followed procedures for social distancing and sanitation. Other states, like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming soon followed. Texas will be up next: They’re allowing their gyms to reopen on May 18—at 25 percent capacity, and with other stipulations involving hand hygiene, sickness screening for employees, and social distancing requirements.

The picture is less clear for gyms in other areas, especially in hard-hit states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

What is obvious, though, is that when gyms reopen across the country, they will look a whole lot different than they did just a few months ago.

“Gyms are going to have to come up with a robust plan for how they are going to keep their patrons safe,” Amesh Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and infectious disease expert, tells SELF.

And it’s likely going to be different “for the foreseeable future, until we have a clear medication or clear vaccination available,” says Waleed Javaid, M.D., the director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York.

But what exactly would need to be done for gyms to reopen safely during the new coronavirus pandemic? Unfortunately, like many questions with the new coronavirus, there’s no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answer. There are a lot of gray areas with it, says Dr. Adalja.

When your gym reopens, should you go back right away?

Here’s the bottom line: It’s all going to come down to your personal risk preference, and how much of a risk you want to take to get back to the gym, says Dr. Adalja.

In the time of the new coronavirus, going to any public place (including gyms) will not be risk-free. And that’s something you’ll have to be OK with if you do decide to go back.

The best thing you can do, then, is two-fold: Stay informed with what your gym is doing—inquire about what particular measures your gym is enacting, and see how they fit with the experts’ advice below—and ask yourself how much of a risk you’re OK with taking.

And as Dr. Javaid said, you also have to weigh your reasons for going to the gym, to help you determine whether the benefits of going will outweigh the possibility of getting sick (or spreading the virus to others).

“Is it necessary, is it vital, is it worth the risk?” he says.

Know too that the science on the new coronavirus is constantly changing, and new discoveries might affect earlier recommendations—and safety policies put in place. For instance, official recommendation for social distancing uses 6 feet as the benchmark, but some newer research suggests transmission may occur at greater distances. (One study in Emerging Infectious Diseases even suggested transmission may occur up to 13 feet away in a hospital setting.)

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