As countries begin to reopen and governments continue to ease restrictions, public spaces like gyms have started welcoming visitors, while following strict social-distancing and hygiene measures. Yet despite governments opening public facilities and letting up somewhat on social-distancing precautions, epidemiologists around the world continue debating whether it is safe to return to spaces like gyms amidst the pandemic.
A study conducted in Oslo, Norway, examining the risk of coronavirus transmission among gym-goers, demonstrated that people who went to a gym were not more exposed to contracting the virus when compared with people who didn't go. The Norwegian government opened up gyms last week, based on the results from this study, which has been published but has yet to go through peer review.
Some epidemiologists have questioned the findings of the Norwegian study, based on the premise that it was conducted when there were very few reported cases of COVID-19 in Oslo. Mette Kalager, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Oslo and a lead scientist in the aforementioned study, argues that a better approach towards reopening public spaces includes carefully studying the impact after each new step of reopening is conducted. The Science Magazine points out how the reopening of the majority of spaces around the world has been done with little or no scientific investigation and evidence to prove whether it is really safe for patrons to start using these premises again.
Even though the study demonstrated that out of the 80 percent of participants who sent in their COVID-19 tests with only one of the gym-goers testing positive for the coronavirus, there is no complete certainty on whether opening up gyms is still safe.
Emily Smith, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, argues that none of the people who went to the gym were sick, which impedes scientists from knowing how the virus would spread if someone with symptoms were to "take a spin class or share a gym locker with others." Mette Kalager, who led the study in Oslo, established that the study cannot determine whether it is safe to return to the gym in cities with high incidence of coronavirus.
In the next trial, the research team at Oslo is planning to compare the infection risk at newly opened gyms that are following strict social distancing and hygiene measures and are welcoming a higher number of guests. She argues that this will better illustrate whether it is safe to continue opening gyms amidst the outbreak.