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New CDC Reports Highlight Need for Masks at Gyms

Andy Berg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week urged stricter precautions for gym-goers after tracing coronavirus outbreaks in Hawaii and Chicago.

The findings of two reports show that working out inside a club without a mask on is particularly risky.

The research tracked members at three fitness facilities in Hawaii from June through July last year. In that instance, 20 of 21 people tested positive for COVID-19 in cases linked to two fitness instructors.

The Chicago outbreak took place around two months later. There, mask use, temperature checks and symptom screenings were required upon entry. Patrons brought their own mats and weights, and were positioned at stations at least six feet apart. However, they were allowed to remove their masks during exercise. In all, 55 out of 81 people who attended high-intensity indoor classes at the Chicago gym sometime between Aug. 24 and Sept. 1 became infected and developed COVID-19.

On its website, the CDC notes that to reduce COVID-19 transmission in fitness facilities, “staff members and patrons should wear a mask, and facilities should enforce consistent and correct mask use (including during high-intensity activities) and physical distancing, improve ventilation, and remind patrons and staff members to stay home when ill. Exercising outdoors or virtually could further reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk.”

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association responded directly to the new CDC reports, acknowledging the CDC’s guidance, while also noting that gyms are relatively low-risk venues.

“The industry recognizes that risk for COVID-19 cannot be zero,” wrote Alexandra Black Larcom, senior manager of health promotion & health policy for IHRSA. “However, many facilities have been closely following the CDC guidelines outlined in these reports since the fall, and fitness facilities communicate risks, guidelines, and protocols with their members.”

Larcom said that currently available evidence suggests fitness centers implementing appropriate safety protocols are not high-risk venues for COVID-19 transmission.

“According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, just 1.71 permission of COVID-19 cases in the Chicago area were attributed to gyms and fitness centers,” Larcom wrote. “In Honolulu, there has been just one cluster of 25 cases reported in fitness centers since November 4, representing less than 1% of total cases in that period. Contact tracing in several other states shows that cases attributed to categories containing fitness centers appear to make up a small proportion of total outbreaks.”

Brent Darden, IHRSA interim president and CEO, added, “The good news for the health and fitness club industry is that the CDC’s recommendations are closely aligned with current industry guidelines. Globally, 1,552 fitness facilities have signed onto the Active and Safe Commitment, pledging to adhere to these minimum standards.”

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