Fully into our 6th month of the US COVID-19 pandemic, we all are looking for a little bit of familiarity to return to our lives. As public health awareness spreads, so too, have we begun to limit the virus from spreading. Being more conscious of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing our hands has allowed society to take small steps back towards normalcy.
Depending on where you may be reading this, your location may allow for outdoor dining, commercial shopping locations to reopen, and maybe even reopening your local gym. The wait for some of these things to return has driven us all a little crazy.
We have grown so accustomed to open access of these facilities, that when we are denied, we want to stomp our feet like Willie Wonka’s Veruca Salt and say, “But, I want it now!”
What a better way to work off our “quarantine 15” than to go to our local gym? Many different state governments have permitted local gyms to reopen. They must be safe, right? Let us take a deeper look into why it may not be the best time for you to try to pick up where you left off in your fitness regimen.
The main risk that exists within the gym is the increased risk of exposure. Exposure is when we come into physical contact with something. Risk expresses the probability that an adverse outcome (i.e. “bad things”) will occur following exposure.
A simple way to think about it is in the equation: COVID Risk = Hazard x Exposure.
For our intents and purposes, the hazard is COVID, and exposure is dependent on the amount of virus present, and time of viral exposure (also known as “infective dose”).
When we are in the gym, we are in a closed environment. A closed environment full of people (some of whom may be sick or asymptomatic) is probably the last place you want to be to avoid COVID-19. Once droplets have been expelled, they are now in an enclosed space and are unlikely to use one of the exits before they potentially attach to you. The result is more exposure.
Beyond a closed environment, the risk of exposure is increased with the use of shared fitness equipment. Everyone is touching, sitting, laying on equipment and potentially being a vector for viral spread. Wipes and disinfectants can be effective, but that is also assuming patrons are cleaning their equipment thoroughly. If they do not, more exposure occurs.
Aside from high-touch surfaces, there is a physiological need for the body to increase respiratory output with increased activity. This means not only is there a need for you to increase your respiratory rate, but also everyone else in that facility is likely doing the same thing. The result is more hazard.
Remember, COVID Risk = Hazard x Exposure.
Lastly, lets focus on the use of HVAC units inside of most gyms. We have identified that in (most) gyms, we are in a closed space, while individuals (including ourselves) are increasing our respiratory rates and volumes, and now we have a powerful air circulation system that will effectively suck up and push potential droplets or viral clouds throughout the facility. Sounds like our exposure in our equation has increased significantly.
Physical fitness is paramount to our overall health. It not only has physical health benefits but can also improve mental health during this uncertain time in history. However, it’s also important to avoid these exposures.
Each of us takes a personal risk when we enter a gym in a global pandemic, but when we leave, we then pass on a collective risk to the community outside of the gym.
If you can afford gym membership during this economic crisis, then you are also most likely not among those marginalized people in our society that are at high risk for COVID.
In other words, you are less likely to be a victim, but perhaps more likely to create a victim.
The only way to get back to normal is to stop the spread of the virus. That cannot be accomplished when healthy active people convene to spread the virus in high risk environments, like an indoor gym. And let us be clear, we cannot really tell in advance who will be most vulnerable or not – this virus kills all ages.
But it is a problem that YOU can easily solve.
Take the opportunity to go for a walk or run, join an outdoor gym, try a home workout off the internet, or get creative.