Gyms pose no additional risk of COVID-19 spread, says new research
The large-scale academic study conducted in Norway says there is no threat of increased COVID-19 spread at gyms or fitness facilities when social distancing and hygiene measures are followed.
A Norwegian study has suggested that there is "no threat of increased COVID-19 infection" in gyms and fitness centres if good hygiene and social distancing are observed.
A team of researchers at the University of Oslo, led by professor Michael Bretthauer, investigated SARS-CoV-2 transmission (the virus that causes COVID-19) – and whether it was attributable to gyms.
The research – the first of its kind in Europe – studied 3,764 members of the public, aged between 18 and 64 years, who had no COVID-19 relevant comorbidities at five training facilities in Oslo, Norway.
The study has been published by Medrxiv -- an Internet site that distributes unpublished eprints about health sciences. It distributes complete, but unpublished manuscripts in the areas of medicine, clinical research, and related health sciences.
Roughly half (1,896) of the people were given access to visit the gyms, while the other half (1,868) – a control group – were not. The former were given access to five gyms – 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).
Facilities were opened from May 22 2020 specifically for the study – while Norway was still in lockdown – and activities available at the gyms included services the clubs would normally provide, from gym floors to group classes (including spinning and yoga).
Those visiting a gym had to adhere to the virus prevention guidelines drawn up by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. These included social distancing (one metre for floor exercise, two metres 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 member.
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.
Researchers then tested each person for SARS-CoV-2 by self-administered naso-, oropharyngeal and sputum sampling after two weeks – and clinical disease by linkage to electronic patient records after three weeks.
In the group that trained at a gym, 81.8 per cent trained at least once and 38.5 per cent visited a gym six times or more, with the remainder ranging between these two measures.
Out of 3,016 individuals who returned the SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests, there was one positive test, but while the positive individual was part of the "gym group", they had not visited the gym before the positive test and contact tracing found that they had actually been infected in their workplace.
During the three-week study, there were no outpatient visits or hospital admissions due to COVID-19 in either group. In addition, out of 91 employees who worked at the training facilities during the trial period and agreed to provide data, 83 (91.2 per cent) were tested for SARS-CoV-2 and none were positive.
Researches concluded: "Our trial showed no virus transmission or increase in COVID-19 disease related to the opening of gym facilities, providing good hygiene and social distancing routines were in place.
"By emergency law, all training facilities were closed in Norway during the pandemic. The closure was reasoned by the assumption that training activity at the facilities would increase the risk of virus transmission between members of the facilities and thus COVID-19 disease among members, staff and the community.
"However, basic hand hygiene and social distancing measures – by securing 1 to 2 meters distance between individuals – are well-proven and important virus transmission protection measures. They are inexpensive, easy to apply, and do not require large resources."
"As our results show, there was no increase in COVID-related disease due to the opening of gyms and training facilities," the study concluded.
So far, more than 9.6 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, including nearly half a million deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.