Health and Wellness

These are the safety contraptions a gym in Hong Kong is using to reopen — take a look

At Pure Fitness gym in Hong Kong, clear dividers have been installed in areas where physical distancing isn't possible.
Courtesy of Pure Fitness Hong Kong.

On Monday, Ben Lucas, a reporter who lives in Hong Kong, tweeted a photo of his local gym, which reopened on May 8.

In the photos, the elliptical machines at the Pure Fitness location in Quarry Bay were separated by clear dividers that resembled cubicles. 

According to a representative for Pure Fitness, the dividers help to stop the spread of the virus when 1.5-meter distance, in line with Hong Kong government's suggestion, cannot be easily maintained.

And United States gym-goers can expect to see some similar adjustments at their own gyms as states enter initial reopening phases. In Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Oklahoma, for example, gyms have reopened with physical distancing measures in place. More states could follow suit as early as this month as stay-at-home orders lift.

(On Monday, protesters in Florida did pushups and other exercises in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse to urge public officials to open gyms. The White House Guidelines for Opening Up America state that gyms in states that are in the first phase of reopening "can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.")

But anyone who attends a public gym should recognize that it's "not a zero-risk situation," Jay Varkey, associate professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine and hospital epidemiologist at Emory University Hospital, tells CNBC Make It.

"That doesn't mean that you can't go, I get it," he says. "But it also comes with recognizing what [safety] steps we need to be taken."

For instance, experts say the dividers Lucas photographed in Hong Kong alone would not provide enough protection — machines should also be spaced out at least six feet apart with fewer people using them at a time to reduce the risk of transmission. 

Most gyms and fitness centers have those treadmills packed in pretty tight," Kevin Heffernan, professor of human performance at Syracuse University tells CNBC Make It. "They're not ideally designed for social distancing."

Indeed, gyms must be thoughtful in terms of spacing and capacity because "you generate a lot of sweat, and people are breathing really hard," says Varkey.

To that end, wearing a mask during a workout might become standard procedure, even though it can be uncomfortable. (There are cloth bandannas or "buffs" that are face coverings made for working out — they are typically worn by runners to protect their face from sun and wind.)

But wearing a mask while exercising can also come with its own problems: "The concern that I would have is that the mask itself would get damp and then stop working," Varkey says. 

Even with physical barriers and a mask, you should aim to be a minimum of six to seven feet from others, Varkey says.

At Lucas's gym, the cardio machines were the only area that seemed drastically changed, he tells CNBC Make It. However he noticed more members of the cleaning staff attending to the gym equipment than before the coronavirus crisis.

On that front, gyms should provide cleaning materials that protect against viruses like Covid-19, Varkey says, and make it "make it clear" to patrons that the sprays and wipes are EPA-approved disinfectants for SARS-CoV-2.

Plus, "all of these disinfectants have often either a one-to-two-minute kill time," Varkey says. That means, you have to spray, wait a couple minutes, and then wipe equipment before you can safely use it.

And remember: Hand hygiene is extremely important, especially when you're touching lots of surfaces at the gym.

"Any gym that values the safety of their members should make hand sanitizers and hand washing sinks readily available," Varkey says.

If you're someone who prefers the camaraderie of group exercise classes, you may need to find an alternative solution. In Hong Kong, for example, classes are limited to eight people only, in accordance to social-distancing guidelines, Lucas says.

"Folks can (and should) look to sign up for some one-on-one virtual personal training," Heffernan suggests. "You'd be helping someone else that may be struggling financially right now, and it will bring a fun social element to your workout as well."

And there could be other measures.

Lucas says that at his Pure Fitness location in Hong Kong, "we now have to fill out a short form with contact details, recent travel history and state if we have had any contact with people who have tested positive for coronavirus. And members have to have their temperature taken upon entry to the gym, as is standard for most shops, bars and restaurants in Hong Kong, he says.

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