CLEVELAND, Ohio — With the coronavirus surging in Ohio, should Gov. Mike DeWine close gyms?
The governor considered closing gyms last month, along with bars and restaurants, but instead implemented a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The governor’s biggest focus was on asking people to stah in their homes.
But as COVID levels rise, health experts are suggesting it may be necessary as the winter months rage on.
The Ohio Department of Health reported 7,835 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 437,928 since the outbreak entered the state. There were 123 newly reported deaths.
In Cuyahoga, Summit, and other urban counties, boards of health have issued stay-at-home advisories, recommending people leave their homes for necessities.
But many gyms — both municipal recreation centers and for-profit fitness centers — remain open. Though some have mandated masks even during exercise.
Three health experts weigh in on whether DeWine should consider shutting down gyms.
Dr. David Margolius, director of internal medicine at MetroHealth
“With our numbers right now, I think everybody should do their best to stay in their homes if they can,” says Margolius.
However, Margolius believes that gyms can operate safely and didn’t explicitly say gyms need to be closed. He is more worried about people traveling back and forth, leading to higher chances of community spreading.
“I think gyms can operate safely, but it’s the non-essential travel that worries me at the moment, given our high prevalence of cases,” says Margolius.
Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health
Halkitis, an avid gym-goer himself, says at this particular moment keeping gyms open isn’t an “essential” service.
“There are ways for people to be able to exercise, which is critically important,” says Halkitis.
Halkitis encourages people to do physical activities at home, such as meditation or yoga, following TV classes or phone apps.
“That prevents them from having to go into space where they can be infected,” says Halkitis.
On the other hand, Halkitis says some of the gyms he’s visited have been very well managed with regard to capacity and cleanliness.
“I believe that any environment (like a gym) which is regulated and is following mitigation strategies, is not any different from let’s say a hospital, which is also being careful and doing mitigation strategies, its the uncontrolled environments that are more problematic than the controlled environments,” he said.
Halkitis says gyms should refrain from having large numbers and group classes.
“It’s possible you can keep the gyms open, but that requires a lot less people, a lot more cleaning, no classes, and ensuring that while everybody is at the gym, people are wearing their face masks,” he said.
Dr. Amy Edwards, associate medical director of Women’s and Children’s Infection Control at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
“It’s kind of a complicated question,” says Edwards. “Any place that encourages congregations should be discouraged.”
Edwards says in theory gyms can stay open safely if they allow people to only use individual machines with acceptable social distancing in between them, along with proper cleaning methods, etc.
“I think it’s very difficult to say as a blanket statement, but I certainly think that with numbers being the way they are its really time to take a long, hard look at all the places where humans congregate together, especially for extended periods of time,” says Edwards.
Edwards says the goal isn’t to shut the entire economy down or close school buildings. But “We need to everything we can to control spread in the meantime,” says Edwards. “The numbers are getting out of control, and we have to get a handle on them.”
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