- Linsey Marr, a ventilation and viral transmission expert, is an avid gym-goer who helped prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at her local gym in Virginia.
- With the right techniques, it’s possible to reduce the risk of contagion even if someone in the gym is sick.
- Marr shared her top tips, including positioning workout stations at least 10 feet apart near open areas, and monitoring carbon dioxide levels.
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With coronavirus cases on the rise again, even the most dedicated gym rats might hesitate to sweat in a shared space. But, with a little planning, it’s possible to have a safer workout indoors.
Dr. Linsey Marr, an avid athlete and expert on ventilation and viral transmission at Virginia Tech, managed to help stop an outbreak in her gym, even after a trainer tested positive for COVID-19 and exposed at least 50 people.
Marr worked with the gym owner to craft the best layout for dispersing particles from panting, sweaty athletes, and reduce the risk of contagion.
Here’s how to implement Marr’s strategy in your own gym, by maximizing air flow, leaving plenty of space between people, and double-checking how well potentially-contaminated air is being dispersed.
Open as many doors and windows as possible
The first step in preventing gym transmission is to create as much air flow in the space as possible.
For Marr, this meant obtaining the building plans for her gym, and calculating the best ventilation based on various layout and wind scenarios.
If you’re not an engineering expert, you can still promote good air flow by opening the doors and windows in your exercise space.
Then, station athletes and trainers as close as possible to those areas, to help ensure any particles generated by breathing heavily during the workout will be whisked away from other people and dispersed outdoors.
Don’t shy away from a mask mandate
In cases where it’s not possible to keep doors open, such as during bad weather or winter months, it’s a good idea to mandate mask-wearing in the gym.
Marr said she understands why people dislike working out in a mask, but she does wear them when working out in more populated venues, and said that the initial sense of straining to breathe does fade over time.
“Masks are very helpful but a lot of people don’t like wearing them, and I don’t like wearing them so I get that,” she said. “But after a couple of days, you can used to it and it’s fine.”
Keep at least 10 feet of distance between people
In addition to have people work out near open doors and windows, Marr recommends at least maintaining 10 feet between people whenever possible.
That’s because six feet, which is the typical measure for socially distancing based on an outdated concept, isn’t enough when people are breathing heavily, expelling all those potentially contagious particles into the air.
If keeping enough distance between people is challenging, consider reducing the number of people in the gym to avoid crowding.
“The number one thing I can say is to avoid crowds. If you can go when it’s not crowded, it’s much safer,” Marr said.
Monitor carbon dioxide levels to test air flow in the gym
Finally, to see how effective your ventilation is, Marr recommends a portable carbon dioxide detector.
These devices measure the carbon dioxide in the air, which is produced as people exhale. More carbon dioxide in the air means all those exhalations have built up in the space, and you’re more likely be surrounding by other people’s respiratory particles (and potential contagions).
When reading the device, a lower number is better — 600 to 800 parts-per-million is an acceptable range for an indoor space, Marr said.
Around 400 parts-per-million is equivalent to the air flow of an outdoor space, she added, and she considers her gym to have excellent ventilation at less than 510 parts-per-million.
It’s an upfront investment of about $100 or so to buy a suitable device, but Marr said it’s worth it to have real-time data on how well air is flowing and thus, what the risk of viral transmission might be.
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