As some fight for gyms to reopen, study links 112 COVID-19 cases to fitness classes in South Korea

As some fight for gyms to reopen, study links 112 COVID-19 cases to fitness classes in South Korea

As we learn more about the novel coronavirus, people are continually adjusting daily routines and outlooks in an effort to be safer and better community members. While experts are still learning all the details about how the novel coronavirus is spread, one new report isn’t terribly surprising but is definitely important to keep in mind as some states across the nation begin to reopen. According to a new report published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the virus may spread especially easily in high-intensity fitness classes. 

Here’s what we know from the report: It looked at a dance fitness workshop in South Korea that was held toward the beginning of the pandemic, in mid-February. The class was aimed at fitness instructors to learn new information and use it to teach others. In this case, 27 dance instructors participated in about four hours of intense working out. At the time of the workshop, none displayed symptoms. From there (not realizing any were infected with the virus), they went on to teach their own fitness classes. 

Eight of those original 27 would later test positive for COVID-19. Using contact tracing, it appears that a whopping 112 people became infected with the virus linked to that original class. Roughly half of the cases appeared to spread from participants to family members or other coworkers, and about half spread from instructors to their own class participants. 

According to the team: “The instructors and students met only during classes, which lasted for 50 minutes two times per week, and did not have contact outside of class.” They added that most students “developed symptoms 3.5 days after participating in a fitness dance class.”

The report noted that classes with fewer than five people did not seem to result in the disease spreading, and classes with up to 22 or so people did. One instructor reportedly taught yoga and pilates (both lower intensity exercises), and seemingly no cases were transmitted in that instance. 

The authors from the Dankook University Hospital suggest: “The moist, warm atmosphere in a sports facility coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of isolated droplets.” This makes sense based on what we know about the virus and its spread, and again circles back to the fundamental importance of social distancing and not reopening spaces like gyms or workout spaces too early. As we know, some people have been protesting for gyms to reopen, and gyms made it into a Phase 1 reopening plan from Trump. States like Louisiana and Georgia are among the earliest to start to reopen gyms. 

The takeaway from this report? According to the authors, “vigorous exercise in closely confined spaces should be avoided during the current outbreak.” 

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