Gyms anxious as restrictions weighed amid COVID surge

Gyms in the DMV are anxious as states and even counties in our area have recently closed or further restricted activities at fitness facilities amid a national and local surge of the virus.

Fitness facilities are considered higher risk by many health experts, because of the potential for people to be crowded into small indoor spaces, sharing equipment and heavy breathing.

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There is little information about coronavirus outbreaks tied to gyms locally.

Officials in the District have not mentioned gyms as a place where they're possibly seeing transmission, based on contact-tracing data. In Prince George's and Montgomery counties, health departments have said they are not aware of any clusters of infection tied to gyms.

Yet Prince George's County officials do say people who have tested positive have listed gyms among the places where they went in the days they were likely infectious. That played a role in recent capacity restrictions which cap gyms at 25 percent.

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Gerard Burley, owner of group-training gym SWEAT DC, says the possiblity of new restrictions is anxiety inducing.

Burley's normal capacity is 30 athletes, but with social distancing it is down to five. Since reopening they've also been following other safety guidelines, some required by the District.

"We're at reduced capacity, being in a gym is one of the only spaces where everyone is required to have a mask at every time. We have temperature checks, we have HEPA filters. We have UV lights," Burley said.

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He says no cases have been tied to the facility and feels the gym can stay open safely.

Dr. Linsey Marr, a renowned expert in aerosols and engineering professor at Virginia Tech says gyms can stay open with safety measures like distancing and good ventilation.

"It prevents any virus that might be in the air from building up and reaching levels where other people would breathe in a lot of it, enough to cause infection," she said.

Marr says masks cut down on transmission too. D.C. and Maryland require masks to be worn at all times in gyms.

"You've got this double layer of protection if everybody is wearing a mask," Marr said.

Marr says she believes robust ventilation is what helped protect members of her gym in Blacksburg when a coach contracted coronavirus in October. The coach at 460 Fitness exposed 50 people, but none got sick.

Burley says he hopes to continue giving clients and outlet to improve their physical and mental health in the safest way possible.

"There are success stories out here. People are participating in these recreational activities safely when they are stressed and getting some help that they need during this time and doing it the right way," Burley said.