Should Gov. Murphy close gyms to fight COVID-19 second wave? 3 experts weigh in.

Eufemia Didonato

Gyms were among the last businesses allowed to reopen this summer as New Jersey emerged from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged closure led to a bitter court fight. Gov. Phil Murphy has called gyms “among the most challenging of indoor environments” when it comes to […]

Gyms were among the last businesses allowed to reopen this summer as New Jersey emerged from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged closure led to a bitter court fight.

Gov. Phil Murphy has called gyms “among the most challenging of indoor environments” when it comes to virus transmission, so they could also be on the short list of venues he’d considering closing as the second wave takes hold with more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases in five of the six last days.

Since Sept. 1, gyms have been able to operate with numerous regulations in place, including 25% capacity, health screenings, mask wearing, increased sanitization, six-feet between equipment and limits on class sizes.

But is that enough to keep people safe at a time when the virus is so much more prevalent than it was in the summer?

We asked three experts whether New Jersey should consider closing gyms soon. Here’s what they had to say:

Bojana Beric-Stojšíc, director of the Master of Public Health program at Fairleigh Dickinson University:

As with many indoor activities, Beric-Stojšic said the decision about whether to close gyms should be looked at regionally, as some communities have much more prevalence while others are still seeing very few cases.

A lot also depends on whether individual gyms have good ventilation and are following protocols, like limiting capacity and using proper cleaning methods, she said.

“There are also options of video exercise — I was taking yoga classes via zoom — because it’s really important that we do get exercise, that we do get all this support for our wellbeing,” she said. “We do have the opportunity to use all the technological advances that are available.”

Forum Fitness Center

Staff from the Forum Fitness Center in Bayonne sanitize the gym equipment after every use.

D. Brian Nichols, virologist and assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Seton Hall University:

Nichols said he sympathizes with both gym owners and members. He was one of those people for whom the gym was his sanctuary before the pandemic. His usual neighborhood gym has had to declare bankruptcy because of the shutdown.

“But with the cases going up as high as they are, our healthcare system is going to get overwhelmed at some point, so I think we’re going to have to make the determination which we prioritize more,” Nichols said.

Gyms are problematic because people are breathing hard and may not be able to keep their masks from slipping during workouts, he said.

“If you’re running the treadmill and you’re breathing heavily, you’re definitely expelling more viral particles than you are just simply sitting in a movie theater or even even simply sitting at a table having a polite conversation,” he said. “The more air you expel, the more virus you’re going to expel with it.”

Bindu Balani, infectious disease doctor at Hackensack University Medical Center and faculty physician at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine:

“I do think that it’s higher up on the list of closures unfortunately, just as the indoor school gyms are or indoor close contact sports are,” she said.

Balani said if gyms are to stay open without risking much transmission, it’s going to take careful monitoring of capacity limits and screening procedures, as well as good disinfection after people use equipment. It’s not clear how much that’s being monitored now.

“I think it is something that definitely the policymakers have to look at,” she said.

An alternative is bundling up for the cold weather and getting exercise outdoors, she said.

“There’s nothing better than that,” she said.

Related:

  • Should Gov. Murphy close indoor dining to fight COVID-19 second wave? We asked these 3 experts.
  • Should N.J. ban indoor youth, high school sports due to COVID-19 surge? Here’s what 3 experts say.

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