- This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: June 23, 2021
When the pandemic began in March 2020, fitness enthusiasts worldwide were disappointed to see gyms close their doors. Since then, gyms have started to reopen and resume workout classes, but many people won’t feel comfortable at gyms until the pandemic ends or until they receive a vaccine. But is it even safe to go to the gym after you get the COVID vaccine?
According to health experts, you should still practice precaution with going into public spaces where you expect people to be breathing heavily nearby. But some acknowledge that the gym can be important, even during a pandemic.
“We’re doing things that are higher risk now because we can and I think that it’s important to realize that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health, and resuming some of these normal activities is a part of that,” Kelly Gebo, a professor of medicine and an infectious-disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, told the Washington Post. “But being safe while doing it is also a part of it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 primarily spreads via respiratory aerosol droplets traveling from person to person. They spread when someone talks, sings, coughs, and breathes heavily. People tend to breathe pretty heavily while working out, and even the best surgical masks are still not 100% effective at containing the spread of the virus.
But in its latest guidelines, in which the CDC said vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks indoors or outside, there was no exception made for the gym. Based on that, the CDC is basically saying it’s OK for vaccinated people not to wear a mask at the gym.
Recent case studies of superspreader events at gyms in Hawaii and Chicago, though, emphasize the increased risk of transmission at gyms.
In Hawaii, 21 COVID-19 cases were linked to a fitness instructor who taught a class where no one wore a mask just hours before he began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, according to a CDC study. All 10 participants in his class later tested positive for COVID-19, including another fitness instructor who worked at a different facility. That instructor went on to teach a class where 10 of the 11 participants got COVID-19 from him.
As the New York Times noted, “The case of the Hawaii spin instructor was alarming because of the efficiency with which the virus left his respiratory tract and swirled around the enclosed classroom, reaching every person in the room. Among epidemiologists, that’s known as a 100% attack rate, and it’s a lesson in why group fitness classes, which often encourage high-energy huffing and puffing in poorly ventilated classrooms, present such a daunting challenge to infection control.”
In this case, the CDC said this study’s implication shows the importance of consistent mask use while working out in public. That will help keep you safe in the gym, especially if you’ve had the COVID vaccine.
“To reduce SARS-CoV-2 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,” the CDC said. “Exercising outdoors or virtually could further reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk.”
Researchers identified 55 COVID-19 infections in Chicago out of 81 people who attended in-person high intensity interval training classes in one week. According to the CDC, 22 people attended classes the first day they experienced symptoms or the day after. Three went to class on the same day they received a positive test or a day later.
This study amplified the need to continually remind gym members to stay home if they have any COVID-19 symptoms until they have a negative test and feel better.
In April 2021, a Spanish man was charged with intentionally infecting 22 people at his gym and home.
Alex Larcom, the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association senior manager of health promotion and health policy, told the New York Times these CDC cases show the need for adequately ventilated facilities and mask-wearing—but not necessarily that gyms should close or be avoided.
“In Chicago, you had members who went to class when they were symptomatic or COVID-positive,” Lancom said. “Society-wide, we are relying on people who are sick or think they are sick to remove themselves from society.”
However, many health experts in the early part of 2021 cautioned returning to the gym if you can avoid it. Multiple dieticians told Very Well Fit that even if you are vaccinated, you must practice safety precautions at the gym.
After you get the vaccine, is it safe to …
- To ride in an elevator?
- To get a tattoo?
- To go to movie theaters?
- Party in Las Vegas?
- Go to a restaurant?
- Go to the dentist?