New study suggests gyms could be reopened, but maybe not in UK/USA

Norwegian study finds it's safe for gyms to reopen, although there are some caveats

it's safe for gyms to reopen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just the news we were waiting for: "a study on the risk of coronavirus transmission in Oslo found that people who went to a gym were no more likely to get infected, or sick, than people who didn’t", ScienceMag reports. This might sound like Christmas came early for many gym-goers, especially after the news that in the UK, pubs will be allowed to reopen from 4 July while gyms will remain closed until further notice.

Around 3,600 people were involved in the research, with half of them allowed back in gyms and after 80% of participants sent in their results "none of  the 1868 people in the control group tested positive, and only one of 1896 gym-goers did." Try not to get too excited, however, as the study is not without caveats and might not provide enough evidence for gyms in the UK/USA to reopen soon. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is it safe to go back to gyms?

There are a few important details to note regarding the Norwegian study. Most importantly, we still don't have a comprehensive understanding about coronavirus and how it spreads, incubation time and so on. Until all aspects of the virus are understood, all study results should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are more empirical than scientific observations.

Also, the study only lasted two weeks, which might not be long enough time in some cases for the virus to show symptoms, as we understand it now. Longer observation would be required for more conclusive results on this matter.

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The study was also controlled (as it should be, really): only five gyms were reopened and only for the purpose of the study, two-metre social distancing rulers were adhered by gym goers and equipment were cleaned after each use. This is not a sustainable approach as many gym-goers were already struggling to keep gym equipment clean even before the pandemic.

A month ago, in an article discussing lockdown/gym reopening, we mentioned that "until there is a way to make sure that A) people can and will distance themselves from each other at all times and B) equipment can be kept clean in between uses, there is no chance of gyms reopening" and even after the study, this seems to be the case.

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One last thing: at the time of the study, the whole of Norway "had reported 8,309 confirmed cases and 235 COVID-19–related deaths since February, with the peak of the nationwide outbreak hitting in early May", according to the same ScienceMag article. This is not comparable to the UK's 311,000 confirmed cases/42,550 deaths or the USA's 2,590,000 confirmed cases/128,000 deaths. Reopening a few gyms in Oslo – which has a population of 681,000 – with 'only' a couple of hundred corona-deaths nationwide in Norway might not provide enough evidence for other countries  to start reopening their own gyms.

We need further research and more importantly, we have to understand the virus to its full extent before we can start reopening direct-contact public spaces such as gyms.

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