The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges to fitness professionals and the operation of fitness facilities. While many have been forced to close their doors, some have stayed afloat by implementing strict safety protocols to protect fitness class attendees and instructors—a practice that appears to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC recently released two reports on COVID-19 outbreaks at fitness facilities in Chicago in August 2020 and Honolulu in July 2020. Both link COVID-19 transmission to failure to wear face masks, extended close contact and poor room ventilation.

The reports include several safety recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in fitness facilities, many of which are aligned with current safety practices being implemented across the fitness industry.

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, senior manager of health promotion & health policy of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), released a statement:

“The industry recognizes that risk for COVID-19 cannot be zero. However, many facilities have been closely following the CDC guidelines outlined in these reports since the fall, and fitness facilities communicate risks, guidelines, and protocols with their members.

“Currently available evidence suggests fitness centers implementing appropriate safety protocols are not high-risk venues for COVID-19 transmission. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, just 1.71% of COVID-19 cases in the Chicago area were attributed to gyms and fitness centers. In Honolulu, there has been just one cluster of 25 cases reported in fitness centers since November 4, representing less than 1% of total cases in that period. Contact tracing in several other states shows that cases attributed to categories containing fitness centers appear to make up a small proportion of total outbreaks.”

IHRSA interim president and CEO Brent Darden also spoke about the reports: “The good news for the health and fitness club industry is that the CDC’s recommendations are closely aligned with current industry guidelines. Globally, 1,552 fitness facilities have signed onto the Active and Safe Commitment, pledging to adhere to these minimum standards.”

Following CDC COVID-19 Recommendations

CDC recommendations to ensure COVID-19 safety in fitness facilities include:

  • Requiring attendees and instructors to wear face masks
  • Maintaining physical distance of at least 6 feet
  • Limiting class size and physical contact (e.g., by installing physical barriers, making foot traffic flow in a single direction and using visual cues for physical distancing)
  • Increasing accessibility to hand hygiene (e.g., by adding hand sanitizer stations)
  • Improving ventilation in the facility (e.g., by maximizing fresh air delivered to occupied spaces, increasing the filter efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, using portable high-efficiency particulate air filtration units where indicated, and ensuring that fans do not direct air from one person to another)
  • Reminding instructors, employees and attendees to stay home when ill
  • Conducting exercise classes outdoors or virtually, when possible.

To improve the safety of your fitness facility, be sure to assess and revise your protocols, as needed. The CDC also provides helpful information for employees of gyms and fitness facilities, as well as owners and managers.