Is it safe to go back to the gym?

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Credit: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The benefits of gyms are clear. Regular exercise staves off depression and improves sleep, and staying fit may be a way to avoid a serious case of COVID-19. But there are clear risks, too: Lots of people moving around indoors, sharing equipment and air, and breathing heavily could be a recipe for easy viral spread. There are scattered reports of coronavirus cases traced back to specific gyms. But gym owners say those are outliers and argue the dominant portrayal overemphasizes potential dangers and ignores their brief but successful track record of safety during the pandemic.

At NW Fitness in Seattle, everything from a set of squats to a run on the treadmill requires a mask. Every other cardio machine is off-limits. The owners have marked up the floor with blue tape to show where each person can work out.

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Only a few U.S. states have publicly available information on outbreaks linked to the fitness sector, and those states report very few cases. In Louisiana, for example, the state has identified five clusters originating in “gym/fitness settings,” with a total of 31 cases. None of the people died. By contrast, 15 clusters were traced to “religious services/events,” sickening 78, and killing five of them.

“The whole idea that it’s a risky place to be … around the world, we just aren’t seeing those numbers anywhere,” said IHRSA’s [Helen] Durkin.

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