If you haven’t been going to the gym much during the pandemic, being vaccinated (or seeing the vaccination rates in your area climb) may be enough to bring you back. But how safe is your gym, really? Here are some signs to look for to be sure that your risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is minimal.
And yes, if you are vaccinated, you can assume that your risk of contracting COVID-19 is minimal anyway, but people have different risk tolerances. No vaccine is perfect, and there are cases of people who got the vaccine but ended up with a breakthrough infection. So we understand if you’d still like to be cautious.
Look for proper ventilation in your gym
The virus that causes COVID-19 can hang in the air in small droplets, and those droplets build up in stuffy spaces. Ventilation is one of the most important ways to mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus in a large public space like a gym.
So, look for signs that air is moving in and out of the room. If doors and windows are open on opposite sides of the room, that’s great. If classes are held outdoors or if there is an outdoor section of the gym, even better.
You can also ask gym management about what upgrades they’ve made to their ventilation system. If they use high grade filters, have a complete turnover of air every 10 minutes or so, or know their carbon dioxide readings, those are signs that they’re taking ventilation seriously.
Other good signs, viral transmission expert Linsey Marr told the New York Times, are high ceilings, portable air cleaners, and people spaced at least 3.05 m apart. If you can smell other people, that’s a signal that air is not circulating well.
Masks still help when you’re indoors, including the gym
After the U.S. CDC’s announcement that vaccinated people can safely go without masks in public places, many gyms that required masks dropped that requirement for vaccinated people. Some gyms just have a sign on the door and go by the honour system; others track members’ vaccination status and enforce the mask rule.
Ideally, people who aren’t vaccinated should still wear a mask when exercising, even during the actual exercise itself. Yes, masks make exercise uncomfortable, but when you’re breathing heavy you’re expelling more and smaller droplets into the air than when you’re standing around the lobby.
You can also wear a mask to protect yourself, even if you are vaccinated, for extra protection. While early in the pandemic we thought that masks only helped protect others, there is good evidence that they protect the wearer, as well.
Cleaning protocols aren’t as important for COVID gym safety
COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through the air and through close contact with others (like being face-to-face), and probably rarely, if at all, through contact with surfaces.
Still, that doesn’t mean cleaning and sanitizing are useless. A gym should still be cleaning surfaces on the regular, and providing wipes for members to clean off equipment after they use it. This isn’t just for COVID, but also because other infections can be spread via surfaces — like the skin infection known as MRSA.