How Worried Should You Be About Coronavirus at the Gym?

I am usually pretty focused during my workouts, but earlier this week, I was definitely distracted wondering: How worried should I really be about the new coronavirus at the gym?

After just reading all the news about the spread of the new coronavirus, it was very hard to concentrate on my upper-body routine with the guy coughing, sneezing, sniffling, and snorting just 10 feet behind me. So, how worried do you need to be? Should you skip the gym?

It’s a legitimate question, especially considering that the number of people in the U.S. affected by the new coronavirus has continued to grow since the first case of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus) was identified in the country, on January 21. As of press time, there have been 164 cases and 11 deaths reported among 19 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As SELF has reported in our coronavirus coverage, the new coronavirus is a strain that hadn’t been ID’d before (which is why you may see it described as the “novel coronavirus”), but it actually belongs to a group of seven coronaviruses known to affect humans.

“This novel coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that causes the common cold,” infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells SELF. “We anticipate that it will spread in much of the same manner as the common cold does.”

That means it can be transmitted through close contact with those who are infected. And the gym—where people often jostle for floor space, share machines and equipment, and move side by side in group fitness classes—can definitely feel like close quarters. Here’s what you need to know if you too can’t stop worrying about the new coronavirus at the gym.

How can the new coronavirus spread at the gym?

As Dr. Adalja explains, the new coronavirus is an “equal opportunity virus,” meaning that it can be transmitted in any close-quarters situations in your community, not just at the gym. But there are a few factors linked to gyms and fitness studios that can combine to possibly make the likelihood of transmission a little higher there, he says.

“Gyms are places where people congregate, where they touch a lot of surfaces, so you have to be more alert there, because there are going to be more people in a closer proximity,” he explains. “And people are often out of breath, coughing, and spitting, and doing other types of things that happen at gyms when people are exhausted.”

There are still some unknowns about transmission of the new coronavirus, but it’s likely that the highest chances of getting the virus occur with direct, person-to-person contact, he explains.

“Most of the transmission of this is from actually sick people and getting the droplets from their coughs and sneezes onto your mouth or into your nose,” Dr. Adalja says. “However, there may be some mild transmission going on from common touch surfaces, but it’s not the main mechanism for how this virus is spreading.”

Of course, there’s one bodily fluid that differentiates the gym/fitness studios from lots of other public spaces, and that’s sweat. The good news is the new coronavirus does not seem to be transmitted that way. While there are still a lot of unknowns regarding transmission of the new coronavirus in bodily fluids, the CDC believes it is most likely to be spread through respiratory droplets.

Sweat is not a known mode of transmission, says Dr. Adalja—it’s more the fluid from your nose and mouth.

What can you do at the gym to stay safe?

While the new coronavirus is, well, new, the methods to protect against it are pretty tried-and-true.

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