Here’s Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness Classes
By Julia Ries
For the past few months, people have been working out inside their homes. Bedrooms became yoga studios, offices doubled as cycling spaces.
But now, as states reopen, some gyms and fitness studios are welcoming customers again.
People are antsy to get back to their normal exercise routines, but many are left wondering how risky going to a gym is right now.
Health experts say the key to protecting yourself comes down to four things: masking, physical distancing, handwashing — and whenever possible, taking your workout outdoors.
Here's what to know if you're thinking about going back to the gym.
Here’s How COVID-19 Can Spread at the Gym
One of the main concerns health experts have about COVID-19 is how readily it can spread through the air via respiratory droplets, especially in confined spaces.
Researchers from South Korea recently warned people against rigorously exercising in confined spaces like fitness studios.
For an early release report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Korean researchers looked at a confirmed case of COVID-19 and eventually traced consecutive confirmed cases back to a nationwide fitness dance class.
Ultimately, the research team found 112 COVID-19 cases linked to dance workout classes across 12 different facilities.
According to the researchers, the moist, warm air combined with turbulent air flow from exercising may create an environment in which droplets can spread readily.
"Based on recent research, aerosolized droplets can remain airborne for up to 3 hours, making the potential for spread in crowded and confined spaces such as fitness studios problematic," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The size and intensity of the class can also impact transmission.
According to the study, transmission was detected in fitness classes that were about 50 minutes long, were held in a studio measuring around 645 square feet, and included anywhere from 5 to 22 people.
People breathe harder when they work out, which is the prime way the virus spreads from person to person.
"When people breathe more rapidly and more deeply, they expel greater numbers of droplets," Glatter said.
Keep in mind that even if people who have COVID-19 don't have symptoms, they can still spread the disease.
Dr. Anne Liu, infectious disease physician with Stanford Health Care, said people are most infectious the day before, day of, and a couple of days after developing symptoms. They can even transmit the virus several days before symptoms appear, Liu noted.
If a person is asymptomatic or presymptomatic, they can expel viral particles into the air through droplets that can become aerosolized, according to Glatter.
"This increases the potential of transmission among people in hot and crowded fitness studios with poor air circulation," Glatter said.
Take Your Workouts Outdoors
The most effective solution is to take your workout outside, according to Liu.
Gyms with access to outdoor space should consider hosting fitness classes outside, Liu said.
The risk for contracting the coronavirus outdoors is lower than contracting it inside because coronavirus particles can disperse more quickly outside.
When working out outside, people should still stay 6 feet away from others, bring their own equipment, and limit the number of people in the group.
Remember, just because you're outside doesn't mean you can't get sick — it just means you have a lower chance of being exposed to viruses in the air.
Here’s How to Protect Yourself at the Gym
If your heart is set on going to the gym, make a plan.
Liu said everyone has to grade their own risk.
Look at local transmission in your area (more outbreaks could mean you have a higher risk) and what local health authorities are saying about community spread.
Consider your own underlying health conditions and age, and whether it's safe for you to be in confined spaces with others.
"Each person needs to really assess their own risk, and then assess the risk of that situation to determine whether that level of risk is acceptable to themselves," Liu said.
At the gym, practice good hand hygiene, bring your own equipment when possible, and disinfect any communal weights or mats you may use.
You may also want to consider wearing a mask while exercising.
Though this can be tricky with high intensity workouts, masking will ultimately help us share space again, according to Liu.
Physical distancing can cut your risk of developing COVID-19, too.
Until there's a readily available vaccine, we shouldn't let our guards down at the gym just yet.
The Bottom Line
People are antsy to get back to their normal exercise routines, but many are wondering how risky going to a gym is right now.
Early evidence shows COVID-19 can spread readily in confined spaces where people are rigorously working out. The safest thing to do is take your workout outdoors.
If your heart is set on the gym, it's crucial to look at community spread in your area and your own risk factors. When in doubt, wear a mask while exercising if possible, practice physical distancing, and keep washing your hands.
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By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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