ACROSS FLORIDA — Fitness fanatics will be able to resume working out at their favorite gyms and fitness centers on Monday.
On Friday during a news conference in Jacksonville, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he’s moving forward with Phase One on the state’s reopening plan including reopening gyms and fitness centers.
DeSantis ordered all gyms and fitness centers to close May 20 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Don’t we want people to be getting exercise? Don’t we want people to stay in shape?” DeSantis asked. “It’s gonna actually make them more resistant to severe consequences.”
The governor said that the coronavirus is most debilitating to people who are not in good physical condition. Resuming regular exercise will only enable residents to better fight off the virus.
He stressed that social distancing and proper sanitation will be musts.
“Make sure that you respect the social distancing capacity,” DeSantis said. “If you’re sweating on the dip bar, clean the dip bar if you’re done doing dips.”
The announcement came as good news to gym owners like Brandon Warren of Brandon Fitness.
“Brandon Fitness is super excited about the governor’s decision to fully execute Phase One of reopening Florida that includes fitness centers and gyms,” said Warren. “We understand the safety precautions of this pandemic and will fully adhere to the recommendations by the CDC. Additionally, we are implementing extra guidelines to ensure the safety of our clients.”
“We are so excited to get back to the gym,” said Kim Rymanowski, owner of three Tampa Bay 9Round Fitness centers in Dunedin, Safety Harbor and New Port Richey. “We are happy the governor is allowing gym owners to be accountable while keeping our customers and employees safe. Our boutique gym is nothing like a 20,000-square-foot box gym which allows for extreme social distancing while sanitizing each and every piece of equipment after one use.”
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But Ken Cooper and Hollie Wolf, co-owners of Symmetry Studio Fitness on Florida Avenue in Tampa, are worried that the governor may be jumping the gun and allowing pressure from the industry to allow fitness centers to reopen too soon.
“I think it is a little early,” Cooper said, noting that Symmetry Studio Fitness has always emphasized small classes with individual attention. “We have never been an open gym to the public as are most gyms. We are more of a boutique studio. We will maintain the same as we have been with small group fitness classes and not open up truly until June.”
Patty Durell, CEO of Rock Solid Fitness in Dunedin said she’s been luckier than most fitness studio owners. She was able to continue one-on-one strength-training sessions because physical therapy was deemed an essential service.
“Now we’ll be able to have more than one client,” Durell said. “But we’re still going to offer our clients Purell when they walk in and take temperature, have staff wears masks, social distance and maintain other protocols. We’ve always cleaned every door knob and every machine after use. We were obsessed with cleaning evening before COVID.”
She added that none of her staff or clients have contracted coronavirus using these protocols and believes the fitness industry can play a role in combating virus.
“I feel in the core of my soul that strength training is a vital part of health,” she said. “It boosts immune system and helps us mentally. In times of stress, we need exercise more than ever.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not given comment on the decision to reopen gyms, it has shared studies on the spread of the coronavirus in fitness facilities.
Most recently, it published a study by infectious disease experts at Dankook University College of Medicine in South Korea suggesting that fitness centers may accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.
During 24 days in Cheonan, South Korea, 112 people were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome associated with the coronavirus while taking fitness dance classes at 12 sports facilities.
The South Korean physicians concluded that “intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase the risk for infection. Vigorous exercise in confined spaces should be minimized during outbreaks.”
The South Korean infectious disease experts pointed out that the age and physical fitness of the participants didn’t seem to provide immunity from the virus.
Among 54 fitness class students with confirmed coronavirus, the median age was 42, all were women and only 10 had preexisting medical conditions.
Dr. Stephen Berger, a board-certified infectious disease doctor and co-founder of the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network., also expressed concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in gyms.
“A gym is just another venue in which disease can be passed from person to person, and the risk of contracting COVID-19 might increase there, where group sports and games require close personal contact,” he said. “The fact that you might be young and healthy won’t affect your chance of becoming infected; it will really only increase your chances of surviving an infection without severe or fatal consequences.”
The good news is the coronavirus isn’t spread through sweat.
“We know that the coronavirus is not found in sweat,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Adalja said data has shown that the coronavirus spreads from person to person among those in close contact (within about 6 feet) by respiratory droplets released when someone infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks.
“It’s coughing or sneezing that we’re concerned about,” he said.
The virus can live on exercise machines, fitness balls and free weights, so he said it’s important to disinfect equipment after use, maintain social distancing and wear face masks when working out in public.
A recent study by Harvard Medical School found that the coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Researchers also found that the coronavirus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall. But most often they will fall more quickly.
With these facts in mind, Adalja said returning to regular workouts at your favorite gym is a personal choice. Some people feel more motivated when exercising in a fitness center with others around them. Many people, however, are managing to stay in shape exercising at home, whether it’s using a home fitness machine, tuning into virtual workouts or jogging through the neighborhood.