How to Return to the Gym Safely

Next up on New York State’s reopening list: gyms and fitness centers. Enter Weill Cornell Medicine’s David P. Calfee, MD, MS, chief hospital epidemiologist for NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. 

A lot of the things that someone going to the gym (or to any other public setting for that matter) should do are done in order to protect other people,” Dr. Calfee explains. “That’s why it is important for everyone to do these things, regardless of what they think about their personal risk of acquiring COVID-19 while at the gym.” 

The bottom line? “Gyms can be safe places only when EVERYONE plays by the rules.”    

Here’s what you need to know, Dr. Calfee says  

Do not go to the gym if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or a known recent exposure to COVID-19. 

Most of the potential risks associated contracting the virus at the gym are the same as those for contracting the virus in other settings: gatherings of large numbers of people in close proximity to one another within indoor spaces. Physical exertion also may increase the generation of respiratory droplets, which can transmit the virus from person to person. This is confounded by the ability to be infectious while you are entirely asymptomatic.   

While staying home from the gym while you are ill is very important, that alone is not sufficient to prevent transmission.  That’s why it is important for everyone going to a gym (or any other public setting) to adhere to recommended prevention strategies. 

If you’ve just traveled from a state on New York’s 14-day quarantine list, please do not go to the gym during your quarantine.

Wear a face mask throughout your time in the gym.

In locker rooms and showers, people will be taking off their masks to shower and change clothesLockers rooms and shower facilities are more confined spaces in which ventilation may not be optimal.

Perform hand hygiene frequently.

You know what to do: pick a song and sing it for 20 second to make sure you’re washing your hands thoroughly. Look for hand sanitizer and hand wipes, which should be widely available in the facility. 

Make sure the staff and gym-goers are cleaning and disinfecting equipment and surfaces between uses.

Gyms should provide disinfectant wipes so their staff and gym users can clean shared equipment both before and after use 


Maintain a safe distance from others6-feet.

Here’s why: We go to the gym to exert ourselves, and exertion leads to increased rate and depth of breathing--and the generation of more respiratory droplets and shortness of breath (perhaps leading to greater likelihood of mask removal).  

If you have a choice from among group classes, one-on-one training, and using gym equipment, know that the group class option likely presents the greatest risk, especially if you’re participating in a high-intensity workout.  

If there are floor markers and partitions to remind patrons to keep their distance, respect them.  

If you see something, say something.

Tell gym staff if you see patrons not adhering to safety recommendations.  Don’t let them ruin it for others. 

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