As anyone who’s ever been to a spin, HIIT, or yoga group fitness class knows—especially if you’re in a crowded town with a favorite teacher—there’s not much social distancing going on.
Those sweating and breathing hard are typically doing so with others well within the 6-foot keep-your-distance zone that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to stop the community spread of the new cononavirus.
And if the class uses shared equipment like weights, mats and bands, it could be another way to pass along the virus that causes COVID-19 if those items aren’t properly sanitized.
At this time, “social distancing is prudent,” Benjamin Schwartz, M.D., Fairfax County (Va.) division director of epidemiology and population health, said in a statement to Men’s Health. So how do you do it in a group fitness class? “If a class cannot accommodate 20 people with social distancing—6 feet is best—then consider decreasing class size,” he says.
If your gym hasn’t decreased class size
None of the major chains contacted by Men’s Health have committed to reducing class size at this time, and so far, the CDC hasn’t laid out guidelines specifically for small-group fitness classes as it has for schools, universities, places of worship and large public gatherings like sporting events.
That has left the group fitness industry to sift through the blanket recommendations to see what is most applicable to deal with COVID-19, which was officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.
What gyms are doing
Representatives for SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp and Orangetheory told Men’s Health that they are taking extra measures at their studios, including offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers to their members.
Each stressed that they tell members not to come in if they’re feeling ill.
“Please stay home if you are not feeling well, especially if you have a fever, are coughing or sneezing or are experiencing shortness of breath,” Orangetheory said in a statement. “If a member shows up with symptoms, the staff will politely ask them to leave.”
SoulCycle also said it would honor all late cancellations for those who are sick and Orangetheory stated those who are sick can put a hold on their accounts until they’re well.
Barry’s said it won’t waive cancelled class fees just because a member is “concerned about coronavirus,” but will offer refunds if city or state officials require the gym to close.
What you should do in class
The new coronavirus is spread through droplets, typically excreted by an infected person via a cough or a sneeze. The virus can’t be transmitted through sweat, but it can live on surfaces for several hours and potentially days, making washing hands, avoiding contact with the face and wiping down equipment after each use crucial.
“Substitute fist pumps for high fives,” Orangetheory said in its statement. “Please feel comfortable not participating in any bodily contact with the staff or other members if you so choose.”
What the yoga COVID-19 task force is doing
The Yoga Alliance, a large nonprofit association that represents yoga studios, has a COVID-19 task force that meets daily.
Shannon Roche, president and CEO for Yoga Alliance and Yoga Alliance Foundation, explained that the alliance—which has already made recommendations to its members—will roll out more detailed guidelines that will detail how studios should react in communities where there are COVID-19 clusters.
Right now, they’re thinking of the studios as places akin to classrooms. “Desks are spaced apart much like mats are in a yoga studio.”A handful of school districts have closed and several universities have stopped in-person classes in favor of online courses in recent days due to the coronavirus.
“Our members want to do the right thing, and that’s not always easy economically for smaller studios or really anyone running a smaller fitness space,” Roche said. “Some of these studios are bare bones and could be just getting by, but they are still deeply committed to doing what’s best for their community.”
“Even in areas of the country where there are no or few cases, we have to change our behavior,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in a congressional hearing on Wednesday. “We have to essentially assume that we are going to get hit.”
COVID-19 is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. “I think that men and women over the age of 60 with existing illnesses should be practically careful in public places of all sorts, but especially in these kind of workout areas,” Dr. Louis Minsky, an MDVIP primary care physician based in Baton Rouge, La., told Men’s Health.
SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp and Orangetheory said in their respective statements that they would rely on public health officials when it comes to closing locations. There are more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and experts expect that number to grow in the coming weeks, especially as more are tested.
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