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New research suggests no increased risk of COVID-19 spreading in gyms

New research suggests no increased risk of COVID-19 spreading in gyms
June 27, 2020

As fitness facilities around the world reopen, a study of five gyms in Norway has revealed that following their reopening last month there was no increased COVID-19 spread when preventative measures, such as social distancing and hygiene measures, were adhered to.

Conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Oslo, the large-scale academic study concluded that there is "no threat of increased COVID-19 spread" at fitness facilities, even when intensive training takes place.

The team, led by Professor Michael Bretthauer, investigated SARS-CoV-2 transmission (the virus responsible for 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.

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 chain 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 22nd May 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 meter for floor exercise, two meters 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.

The research team 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% trained at least once and 38.5% 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%) were tested for SARS-CoV-2 and none were positive.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Bretthauer advised “our trial showed no virus transmission or increase in COVID-19 disease that was related to the opening of gym facilities, providing good hygiene and social distancing routines were in place.

“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.”

Professor Bretthauer emphasised that Norway’s infection rate is low and continues to decline, and gym-goers, all of whom had no underlying conditions, took the precautions seriously.

He told the New York Times “I personally think this is generalisable, with one caveat (as) there may be places where there is a lot of Covid, or where people are less inclined to follow restrictions.”

Click here to download and read the full study, which is awaiting peer review, titled Randomized Re-Opening of Training Facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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