Editor’s Note/Update, June 25, 2020: The following story was originally posted on March 10, 2020, before the WHO declared the new coronavirus and COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic and before quarantines were mandated by the states. We are leaving this piece intact without changes for a historic unfolding of the events. IDEA has since adopted the The California Fitness Alliance’s comprehensive document “COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Fitness Facilities” as its blueprint for safe reopening and operating not just for California, but for clubs, studios and professionals everywhere. One caveat: IDEA advises that if you are outside of California, that you comply first with your state and city government guidance, but to refer to this document as an excellent resource.  

The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus infectious disease COVID-19, as named by the World Health Organization, is disrupting life as usual and is exacting a visible human and economic toll. IDEA members and fitness professionals across the globe can continue promoting health and minimize business disruption with common-sense precautions and attention to public health developments. This advisory contains information on what we currently know about the virus, suggested preventive measures and resource links to stay updated.

What You Should Know

COVID-19 comes from the coronavirus family, which includes the common cold. COVID-19 appears to be an animal coronavirus, unseen before in humans, that first appeared in Wuhan City, China, and is spreading globally through human-to-human transmission. Fitness pros can remind others that the best defense against viruses, in addition to specific preventive measures, is to maintain a healthy overall lifestyle that includes regular physical activity.

The good news—so far—is that sweat cannot transmit the virus, and there’s a lower risk of picking up coronavirus at a gym or health club than at a church service, according to David Thomas, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (The New York Times, March 8, 2020). Furthermore, as of this article’s publication date, experts have not determined precise transmission, infection or mortality rates for this new illness.

Preventive Measures

Since no vaccine exists to protect against COVID-19, public health experts recommend the following personal preventive measures:

  • Wash hands frequently. Wash hands thoroughly and often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or with a 60% alcohol-based rub, to kill any viruses on your hands. Hand dryers alone are not effective at killing COVID-19. For effective hand-washing practices, check out this video.
  • Avoid touching your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, as any virus on hands from a touched surface can enter the body through the eyes, nose or mouth, according to current information.
  • Maintain social distance. Keep a distance of at least 3 feet between you and apparently healthy persons and stay 6 feet away if a person is coughing or sneezing (WHO 2020).
  • Limit contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you’re sick with respiratory symptoms like a fever, runny nose and/or cough, stay home. Seek medical advice if your condition worsens with a high fever and/or difficulty breathing.
  • Cough into an elbow or a tissue. Cover coughs with a tissue or cough into an elbow. Dispose of tissues immediately in a covered bin and wash hands with warm, soapy water. Wash clothing into which you cough. It is unknown how long the virus can live on hard and soft surfaces. According to the WHO, coronaviruses may survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. The best way to ensure that surfaces you touch are germ-free is to clean them with a disinfectant.

If you’re wondering about wearing a face mask, public health experts advise that it’s not currently recommended for the general public in the United States. For more information about masks, go here.

Based on best public health practices, include the following:

  • Actively encourage sick staff and/or members to stay home. Make announcements and hang posters about staying home when sick and about following cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Instruct staff and members to clean their hands frequently. Provide hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol at the entrance and throughout the facility. Encourage frequent use.
  • Advise staff and members on hygienic use and disposal of tissues. Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles in easily visible and accessible places.
  • Provide disposable disinfectant cleaning wipes near all commonly used surfaces. Include instructions to wipe down surfaces before and after use with a disinfectant that is at least 70% alcohol. Wiping surfaces clean can reduce germs, but only disinfectant that is at least 70% alcohol kills germs. Products with EPA-approved claims against viral pathogens are listed here.
  • Avoid hands-on contact with clients. Avoid handshakes or other close-contact greetings. Trainers and group exercise instructors should make adjustments to form or alignment verbally, without direct physical skin-to-skin contact.
  • Use hot water for towels; disinfect hampers and/or use disposable laundry bags. Use gloves when handling dirty laundry and dispose of them immediately afterward. Wash hands right after removing gloves. Wash towels in the warmest water possible. Disinfect hampers and either dispose of or disinfect laundry bags.
  • Suggest people bring their own mats or use a towel barrier. For group classes, have people either disinfect shared mats both before and after use or bring their own. As an added precaution, participants can put a towel on top of a mat to serve as a barrier.
  • Limit group class sizes for social distancing. Allow people to space themselves in class so they are at least 3 feet away from other members at all times.
  • Limit use of shared props. Minimize use of shared props. Consider offering props for sale so members can bring personal equipment to class.
  • Use gloves when handling weight training equipment. Recommend that clients wear gloves when using weight training equipment and advise them to wash gloves after every gym session.
  • Do routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Clean anything that staff, fitness professionals and members commonly touch—for example, doorknobs, handrails, light switches, handles, drinking fountains, toilets, faucets, sinks, showers, lockers, benches, gym equipment, tables, computers, keyboards, headsets, microphones, television and music remote controls, and all desks.
  • Inform clients of your hygiene measures. To reassure clients, consider sending an email and/or posting a notice that lists staff practices and states your policies for disinfecting the facility. For example, some facilities routinely disinfect surfaces with hospital-grade solutions as often as three times a day. Let your clients know your best practices.
  • Offer virtual training options. For clients who may be wary of going to public spaces, promote any existing virtual training options or consider adding more. This can be an opportunity to build up a streaming business or training library.

Stay Updated

Part of the current challenge posed by COVID-19 is that much is still unknown.

Each day, scientists and medical professionals are learning more. Keep informed of actual risks by following status updates offered by the CDC, the WHO and other health departments. If the virus is not yet in your community, transmission risk is low. If it has arrived in your locale, taking specific steps can considerably limit risk.

“Your clients and members look to you, as a health and fitness professional, to be informed, to be proactive, and to support the larger community with physical and mental well-being,” says Amy Thompson, vice president and general manager of IDEA Health & Fitness Association. “We can’t think of a more important time for you and your business to communicate and reassure your employees and clients.”

See the opportunity for business development in the online space and personal equipment sales and for building relationships with clients by assuring them of your concern and proactive measures to boost public health. Continue to remind everyone that maintaining good health is the best defense and that staying active is essential to optimizing health.



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