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CDC Says Physical Distancing Is Not Enough To Stop The Spread Of Coronavirus In Gyms


A new study from the CDC finds when people work out in gyms, physical distancing is not enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on what people can do to lower the risks and what factors may be out of our control.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When people exercise and start to become winded, this increased exertion can send respiratory particles flying into the air with more force. And this spells trouble if the person is infected with coronavirus, says Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at The Ohio State University.

WILLIAM MILLER: Not only does it travel further, but it can also hang in the air a little bit longer. And as a result, that leads to exposure of more people.

AUBREY: This appears to be what happened last summer in Chicago. Public health officials identified a cluster of 55 COVID cases among people who attended high-intensity exercise classes at a Chicago gym during the month of August. Though physical distancing measures were in place and masks were required upon entry, people were allowed to take them off during their workouts.

Richard Teran is an epidemic intelligence service officer with the CDC assigned to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

RICHARD TERAN: I think what this report does show is that physical distancing in and of itself is not sufficient to prevent COVID transmission.

AUBREY: If people had worn masks, it's likely some cases would have been prevented. And there was another factor, too - turns out about 40% of the people in the Chicago gym cluster had attended an exercise class on the day of or the day after they began feeling symptoms. They likely didn't know at the time they had COVID, but Teran says it's best to err on the side of caution.

TERAN: If you are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, it's important to just skip that class and stay home just in case you are infected.

AUBREY: Teran says because exercise is so beneficial, people should not be discouraged. But given the virus is still circulating and only about 13% of the population has been vaccinated, people need to remain vigilant.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.