(Pxhere.com)

(Pxhere.com)

Panting, spewing droplets, poor ventilation: What makes gyms a superspreading risk

Fitness studio has been linked to more than 65 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario

A recent COVID-19 outbreak at a southern Ontario fitness studio is illustrating how certain indoor settings can provide a perfect storm for superspreading events.

The studio, a downtown Hamilton SPINCO location, has been connected to 69 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, despite screening customers, operating at 50 per cent capacity and keeping the recommended two-metre radius around bikes.

So how did so many cases originate there? And does it raise concern about how the novel coronavirus can spread in a gym setting?

“Certainly this event makes you wonder that,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease expert at Jewish General Hospital and McGill University in Montreal.

“I can see where this could lead to perhaps gyms having serious restrictions placed on them if they want to avoid similar superspreading events.”

Ontario and Quebec recently reintroduced closures at gyms in virus hotspots, including Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, for a four-week period to help limit spread.

And Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer, said Wednesday authorities are reviewing guidelines for fitness studios across the province after the Hamilton outbreak.

Oughton says gyms and fitness studios have a few strikes against them when it comes to tailoring them for the pandemic.

They’re operating almost exclusively indoors, which makes for poorer ventilation, and patrons aren’t usually masked when engaging in strenuous exercise.

High-impact activity also leads to heavier breathing, which means droplets are being expelled from peoples’ mouths at an accelerated rate — and being propelled further distances.

Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, likens it to throwing a ball. The harder you throw, the further it goes.

“We still don’t have a perfect understanding of this,” he said. “But we do know that when people are exercising vigorously, the volume and distance of what comes out of their mouth and their lungs is dramatically different than when somebody is speaking (in a normal way).”

If people are shouting, cheering or singing — which often happens in a spin class where music is blaring and instructors spew out encouragement to keep participants’ intensity up — that can make things worse.

“And if you mix that in with a space that may not have proper ventilation, there is risk for a lot of spread to occur,” Morris said.

READ MORE: No new COVID rules for B.C. gyms as Ontario fitness studio sees ‘very large outbreak’

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta, says spin classes may pose more risk than other group settings because of the bikes themselves. In theory, the rapidly spinning wheels could aerosolize droplets by flinging them further distances.

“I haven’t seen any studies of this, but theoretically it makes sense,” he said.

“I think going to the gym isn’t necessarily high-risk, unless individuals are close together and there’s poor ventilation. But there might be specific circumstances that could make it higher-risk, where something with fast, moving parts (or) a rapidly moving fan can generate aerosols as well.”

But Morris says the real danger comes when people are spewing out droplets in a poorly ventilated space.

The prolonged length of time spent in a spin class, typically one hour, and the number of people in the room will also impact risk.

Not all fitness classes will present the same dangers, he added.

A low-impact yoga class where hearts aren’t racing and breathing is kept under control seems safer than a high-impact spin class, but not if it’s crowded and poorly ventilated.

A dance class, where participants are crisscrossing into airspace previously occupied by others, can be risky as well in the same environment.

“Assuming that room has relatively poor ventilation, that’s the kind of setting where yes, you’d be concerned about the potential for transmission,” Oughton said. “But if you had the exact same room with an excellent HVAC system, or the same room where windows were kept open … those are the kinds of things you could do to reduce the risk.”

Morris says finding ways to make these activities safer is always better than banning them.

Masks, while uncomfortable when working out, can be worn in most instances, he said. Improving ventilation and limiting numbers of people even further can also help.

“If we’re going to be successful, we can’t keep telling people they can’t have these things,” Morris said. “We need to be able to point to something and say ‘this is the better choice.’”

Schwartz says frequent hand-cleaning and the sanitization of equipment should also be kept in mind, even if surface transmission isn’t as concerning as it was earlier in the pandemic.

“And for now I think it’s probably a good idea to avoid spin classes,” he added.

Oughton foresees people taking their workouts outdoors in new ways over the winter if gyms and fitness centres are deemed too risky.

That could mean dusting off the skates or ski boots.

“I think this is going to re-emphasize the safety and the necessity of being able to get some activity and fresh air outside,” he said.

“Hopefully we find new appreciation for outdoor winter sports that we can all enjoy.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFitness

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The bus is free to ride on Oct. 24 so voters can get to the polls to cast their ballots in the provincial election. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Free transit on Election Day in Cowichan

all day and on all regular routes

Painters Jim Tulip, Doug Mackenzie and Gary Henslowe were painting the exterior of the Duncan Butcher Shop and Apple Press printing shop, located between the Trans Canada Highway and Whistler Street, on Oct. 8 as part of neighbourhood painting project. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan’s Whistler Street sees a fresh lick of paint in opioid battle

Group wants to help clean up community, one street at a time

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, left, joined Rob Douglas, right, NDP candidate for the Cowichan Valley in the upcoming provincial election, on a tour to meet people in Lake Cowichan on Oct. 16 and discuss local issues. (Robert Barron/Citizen) Douglas’s campaign continued to pull out all the stops with a visit on Sunday from Premier John Horgan for some spearfishing in Duncan. (Submitted)
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visits Lake Cowichan

Rob Douglas, NDP’s candidate for Cowichan Valley, joins him

Duncan-based author Jennifer Manuel took home the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her first novel, The Heaviness of Things that Float, at the 33rd Annual BC Book Prizes. She will be part of an online reading session on Oct. 22, 2020, featuring Cowichan Valley writers. (Submitted photo)
Cowichan Valley authors to be featured in online readings Oct. 22

The Cowichan Valley Writers Spotlight will feature readings by eight area writers

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants on the Island

Nanaimo RCMP say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Most Read