Could Your Trip to the Gym Become a Superspreader Event?

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday February 28, 2021
Originally published on February 26, 2021

Could Your Trip to the Gym Become a Superspreader Event?
  (Source:Getty Images)

This week, the Centers for Disease Control said gym users should wear masks while working out and urged gyms to improve ventilation and encourage outdoor physical activities whenever possible. In its report, the CDC cited outbreaks at gyms in Chicago and Honolulu last Summer.

Between Aug. 24 and Sept. 1, a Chicago gym operating at 25 percent capacity offered high-intensity classes that resulted in 55 positive COVID-19 diagnoses out of the 81 people who participated in the class. It was reported that some participants didn't wear a mask for the entirety of class. Furthermore, 22 people attended despite showing symptoms of COVID-19, and three attended after testing positive.

While one person was hospitalized for eight days, nobody infected at the gym died. Aside from operating at a lower capacity, the gym's policies include members bringing their own weights and mats, maintaining a six-foot distance from one another, and regular screening and temperature checks. Despite these precautions, what ultimately put others at risk were lapses in mask-wearing and unwell participants attending classes despite their symptoms.

Joshua Epstein, professor of epidemiology at NYU's School of Global Public Health, in an interview with The Washington Post said, "This was a very high-risk behavior with predictably unfortunate consequences. It's high respiration in a closed space. Yes, people brought masks but evidently [a majority] said they wore them rarely, including some attendees with covid. Some were symptomatic and some knew that they were positive. All of those are very, very high-risk circumstances."

In Honolulu, the outbreak was tied to three specific gyms where a 37-year-old instructor taught. The instructor taught classes at two facilities before exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. One was a yoga class with 27 students, on June 27, where only the instructor wore a mask. The next day, the instructor taught a high-intensity class where he and his ten students were maskless.

Apparently, the instructor maintained the six-foot social distancing guidelines. However, with his symptoms still under the radar, he shouted his instructions from a pedestal. A 46-year-old personal trainer who teaches at another facility attended class; that instructor led several personal training and small-group kickboxing sessions before his COVID-19 symptoms began to show. As The Washington Post reports, the first instructor was linked to 21 people who tested positive later, one of which had been admitted to a local intensive care unit.

With case numbers dropping and more people getting vaccinated, Epstein said, "It's the time to maintain all of these measures throughout the vaccination. It's the worst time to get complacent."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

COVID-19 And You

This story is part of our special report titled COVID-19 And You. Want to read more? Here's the full list.