Photo: Deviny Mo and the UCLA Exos staff still stress gym safety despite the rollback of COVID-19 regulations in gyms.
It has been a little more than two years since gyms – along with most other commercial businesses – were forced to close in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
When the country began to slowly reopen, gyms did too, but with heavy restrictions. Masks were mandatory. In some places, gloves were enforced for weightlifting as some feared the virus could be easily spread through touching of shared surfaces.
As vaccines became widely available, gyms started requiring members to be vaccinated or lose access to the clubs.
Now, as we head into spring of 2022, just about all gyms across the nation have lifted COVID-19 regulations, in line with local and state guidelines. However, many gym regulars remain skeptical as to whether it’s safe to return to how it was before the pandemic.
“Just because the rules say you can take your mask off doesn’t mean you have to,” Mo said. “If there is anyone that is still at risk or anyone concerned about catching COVID, they can continue to keep their mask on.”
Mo and her staff at the Exos fitness center in El Segundo continue to do their part to keep their clients safe. Attendees still have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of visiting the facility to sign up for their fitness programs.
They keep all doors open while running the HVAC system to make sure the air circulates well, Mo said. Clients also are urged to wipe down all equipment after every session, a practice that should be common for all gyms.
“We have to be respectful to all of our clients and sensitive to their needs,” Mo said. “If there is a client that has a concern about safety, the question becomes, ‘How can we address it?’ and a huge part of that is making sure the cleanliness is up to par and that supplies are available for those who do have a higher level of concern but still want to take care of their fitness.”
Keeping sanitation wipes at each workout station is one strategy the Exos staff uses to ensure that each machine is wiped down before and after each use. Though COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through airborne droplets, keeping the environment sanitized still decreases the risk of spreading germs and bacteria that may be on the surfaces of exercise equipment.
What gyms can do to decrease risk of virus spread
As COVID-19 safety mandates are increasingly rolled back, people can easily forget that the disease is still present, or become apathetic to it. Gym operators, however, should still be doing everything they can to limit the spread.
Many have gotten creative during the reopening phase. Some gyms, with a big enough campus, moved a lot of their exercise machines outdoors and now operate as duel-location facilities. This keeps areas from becoming overcrowded and allows room for more social distancing.
Another tactic is having customers pre-register for limited time slots with a cap on capacity. This was a strategy that some gyms used earlier in the pandemic.
Mo said Exos is a little bit safer than most gyms because they don’t offer as much open gym time as other fitness centers. Most of their workouts are done in group training sessions, which allows staff to direct where their clients need to be.
“If you start in this lane, you’re pretty much going to stay in this lane,” said Mo. “This way, you’re only going to share equipment with one or two people rather than with all 12 people in the class.”
Mo said reducing the amount of contact individuals have with each other and with equipment was one of the strategies to reduce the spread.
What you can do to decrease risk of virus spread
Fitness enthusiasts know the value of hitting the gym regularly. Exercise has benefits of keeping the body healthy and strengthening the immune system. However, regular gym attendees should be cognizant of the fact that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon – if at all – and can be very transmittable.
Getting fully vaccinated and boosted is the best option and has proven to significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as helping people avoid severe sickness. Those who are fully vaccinated, however, should continue to execute safety precautions in order prevent potential outbreaks.
If you choose not to wear your mask at the gym, it may be wise to put physical-distancing practices into place. Also, make it a habit to wipe down the machines before you begin your workout and after you have finished.
In addition, you may want to bring your own personal towel and mat to limit using gym resources that were previously used by others. And make it a point to cover or bandage any cuts or open wounds to keep germs out.
Ok, but I’m still skeptical
If you are still deciding whether you want to return to the gym as COVID-19 safety restrictions loosen, here are some questions you should consider asking fitness center staff:
- What are your vaccine policies?
- If you are allowing non-vaccinated individuals, are you checking COVID-19 test results?
- What are you doing to mitigate the spread?
- What amenities do you have available for me to feel protected?
Mo also encouraged visiting the facility to get an idea of how the gym is run.
“Always make sure that after you ask those questions, that you schedule a visit to the facility to make sure those strategies are actually being followed,” she said. “We can verbally tell someone we’re implementing safety protocols, but can a person show up and see that the environment is safe?
“If the environment doesn’t feel like a right fit for you, then don’t come in,” she said. “There are a lot of gyms out there that are doing things really well, so make sure you shop around.”
Mo admitted that navigating clients through the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy, but she and her staff will continue to find solutions to help clients feel safe about returning to the gym.
“It takes time, patience, trial and error,” she said. “You just have to dip your toe in the water and find out what works for you.”
If you have any questions about working out at a gym or gym safety, please visit UCLA Health Sports Performance, Powered by Exos.