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.
- Should I Exercise During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts ... ›
- A Second Wave of COVID-19 Looms Large—and It's Not Because of ... ›
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 Scientists Tell WHO - EcoWatch ›
- CDC Expands List of Those With Higher COVID-19 Risks - EcoWatch ›
- WHO Says Coronavirus Is Likely Airborne - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- Scientist Behind Florida's Coronavirus Database Says She Was ... ›
- Younger People Now Driving Spikes in New Coronavirus Cases ... ›
By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to email@example.com
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
- Scientists Sound the Alarm: CO2 Levels Race Past Point of No Return ›
- Global Carbon Levels Surpass 400 ppm for First Time Ever for Entire ... ›
- Carbon Dioxide Levels Set to Pass 400 ppm and Remain Above ... ›