A new Norwegian study found that there is no threat of increased COVID-19 spread at gyms during a trial period that was conducted during the lockdown in Norway.
There's no doubt that fitness facilities have been hit extremely hard during the outbreak of COVID-19. The popular belief is that health clubs are places where the virus easily spreads. But, if proper safety protocols are followed, this might not be true.
Recent research out of Norway has found that fitness facilities are at no higher risk of spreading COVID-19 as long as proper hygiene and social distancing measures are followed. The study, funded by the government, recently featured in an article on Healthclubmanagement.co.uk, aimed to find out whether gyms were at an increased risk of spreading the virus.
The study concluded that there is no threat of increased COVID-19 spread at fitness facilities, even when intensive training takes place. The study found no cases of COVID-19 were transmitted due to gym use during the two weeks of a trial.
HOW THE STUDY WORKED
The government in Norway closed all health clubs on March 12, but for the purpose of the study, five gyms in Oslo were allowed to open their facilities on May 22 only to study participants for a trial period that ran through June 9th. These five gyms were: SATS Sjølyst and CC Vest (two health clubs owned by Nordic fitness giant SATS), STOLT Stovner and Rommen (both operated by gym chain STOLT Trening), and EVO Bryn (a gym owned and operated by EVO Fitness Group).
Researchers looked at a randomized group of 3,764 people across five gyms. Their ages were between 18 and 64. Half of the participants trained at their gym, while the other half did not. The gyms were opened only for these select participants. Regular services at these gyms were available, including group fitness classes. 81.8% of the training group trained at least once at the facility while 38.5% trained six times or more.
Exercisers had to abide by social distancing and increased hygiene practices. These included social distancing (one meter for floor exercise, two meters for high-intensity classes) as well as enhanced hand and surface hygiene, while all workout stations were supplied with disinfectants in order for them to be cleaned after each use by the members. Gym staff also controlled access to the gyms, to ensure distance measures and avoid overcrowding. Locker rooms were open, but showers and saunas were closed. Masks were not required, but members were advised to avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. The following safety measures were put in place at the five facilities:
- No handshaking or other person-to-person contact
- One-meter distancing between people at all times
- Two-meter distancing during high-intensity workouts (indoor cycling, group exercise classes)
- Disinfectants placed at all workout stations
- Members required to clean equipment after use
- Staff required to do regular facility cleaning
- Club required to control access to the facility to ensure no overcrowding so distancing measures could be adhered to
- Locker rooms were opened but showers and saunas remained closed
- Lids removed from trash cans
- Members and staff advised to stay home if feeling ill.
- Exercisers were allowed to work out on the cardio and strength floors as well as to do group classes such as indoor cycling and yoga.
At the end of the experimental period, participants were offered a COVID-19 test. Out of the 80% who consented to testing, there was only one positive test. This positive test was from a member assigned to the training group but who had not yet attended the gym. After contact tracing, it was found that this member had been exposed at their workplace. In addition, the 91 staff members from the five gyms involved in the study tested negative for COVID-19.
The researchers concluded that: “If hygiene and distancing measures could be achieved, we assumed it would be safe to open gyms and training facilities. As our results show, there was no increase in COVID-related disease due to the opening of gyms and training facilities.”
Although the study only ran for three weeks, it provided evidence that gyms are no more prone to COVID-19 exposure than other places where people frequently gather.
Based on the findings, the Norwegian government reopened gyms in the country on June 15 with the requirement that gyms follow the hygiene and distancing measures applied in the trial. Still, gyms in Austria and Germany have gradually been reopening since May, and so far, no outbreaks in either country have been linked to health clubs.
Provided appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures are followed, gyms should be able to operate safely. Luckily, these measures are relatively inexpensive to implement, but they require vigilance from staff to ensure members are following safety protocols.
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