Can we go back to the gym yet?
July 20, 2021 9:22 AM   Subscribe

This was me 499 days ago. On the strength of everyone's advice, we stopped going to the gym and haven't been back since. We have been fully vaccinated (Moderna) since March and are eager to get back to our gym routine. Is it safe yet?

We live in Lake County IL which currently has 3.3 cases per 100K population (it was under 1.0 early in July) and an infection rate (R-nought) of 1.14, down from 1.17 earlier this month. The positive test rate has been under 3.0% for several months.

I was thinking we could wear masks and use the weight equipment during off-peak hours, delaying the cardio activity until the covid rates subside a bit. Mr. DrGail would like to resume riding the exercycle in addition to the weight-training.

What does the current science say? What say you all?
posted by DrGail to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I’d have started going two weeks after my second shot. I don’t have any citations, but I think the science backs it up (assuming no immunocompromised or otherwise unvaccinated people in your household). Breakthrough infections are rare, and symptoms of breakthrough infections are mild, from what I understand.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:36 AM on July 20 [14 favorites]

More than 97% of people entering hospitals right now are unvaccinated. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but especially with those precautions you plan to take the science suggests you'll most likely be fine (and by fine I mean not COVID-free per se, but not hospitalized).
posted by coffeecat at 9:40 AM on July 20

I'd do it/am doing it. It helps that my gym requires masks at all times.

Especially if you're lazy like me and don't get much cardio without forcing yourself to the gym, this is an activity with a clear health benefit to set against the risks.
posted by praemunire at 9:57 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

200 in a million chance of you getting covid, but it wouldn't be bad covid, and you likely wouldn't spread it much. That's 1 in 5000, or if you went every day for 6 years, there's a 50-50 chance of getting it.

Also, going to the gym is healthy! It would probably improve your health more than covid would negate it! There's a 100% chance you'd exercise and over time that leads to strong immune systems anyway!
posted by bbqturtle at 9:59 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

What happens when you run it through the microcovid calculator?
posted by aniola at 11:06 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]

I considered myself to be on the more conservative and safety-conscious side of quarantine, and I've been back at the gym since 2 weeks after my 2nd vaccine. First month wearing a mask, then a stretch of no masks...and now my city is under a mask mandate again, but I'm still going. I find wearing one of these under the mask makes it bearable for exercise, though cardio is still def. much harder with it on.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:10 AM on July 20

I would've done it in the spring after my vaccination, but the Delta variant is increasing numbers again and it appears to be more transmissible and vaccine-evasive, so I would not now.
posted by metasarah at 11:52 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

It's probably safer than a lot of other activities other people believe to be safe, like eating indoors.

Going to "bigger" gyms with more space and airflow should help, as well as what you mentioned by sticking to the weights section (no heavy breathing by you or others). Cardio is a bit more risky as the majority of masks will become useless and uncomfortable after enough sweat and exhaled moisture has accumulated.

You also might want to consider alternative gyms. I know that a lot of Crossfit-style gyms are run out of warehouses and parking lots, there seem to be a lot of pop-up group exercise classes in the park near me, and I've seen some gyms move all their cardio equipment outside and charge for sessions.
posted by meowzilla at 12:31 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

How willing are you to get sick? Maybe not hospital sick, but possibly unable to work for a week or two and possibly Long Covid sick for months, years, or permanently?

If you get sick, and it turns out Delta or Lambda does have a high shed rate even in vaccinated people, a) who is around you that will be potentially affected b) how much do you care if you get those people or strangers sick?

You have to answer those questions to determine your total risk.

Neither of the above scenarios work for me, so I'm back to only leaving the house for groceries. Everyone out in the world right now seems to be either a big covid fan or has no choice, and I'm trying to stay away from the former and not make it worse for the latter.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:31 PM on July 20 [7 favorites]

Note that Lyn Never's comment above seems to be coming from pretty much the most risk-averse mindset. Most COVID cases in vaccinated people are significantly less severe than otherwise, and there isn't a guarantee that the Delta and Lambda variants shed more easily in vaccinated people than other variants.

Just wanted to make sure you didn't come away from this with the thought of "Going to the gym = long covid"; Lyn Never's comment should only be taken into account when you actually attach odds to those events.
posted by sagc at 12:58 PM on July 20 [8 favorites]

Lyn Never's comment seems quite reasonable when you use the microcovid calculator, which attaches precise odds to various events.
posted by aniola at 1:11 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

It's going to come down to your risk tolerance. Me - when it comes to health, I'm pretty risk-averse. I live in a place with a very low case and transmission rate, and I'm aware that the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among non-vaccinated people. But though I'm fully vaccinated and have been since February, I'm worried about variants, so I'm not going to the gym. For me, it doesn't fall into the category of a necessary risk. I can lift weights at home; I can do cardio at home or in the park or along the street. If I can minimize my risk, I'm going to.

I get my hair cut at salons, I go to drug stores and grocery stores. These are things I can't do at home, so I just take precautions like wearing a mask, even though it's no longer required in my state. I socialize with an extremely small group of vaccinated people on rare occasions, and that's the full extent of my risk tolerance.

Am I likely to get COVID? No. Is it possible? Sure. So I do what I can to avoid it, which includes vaccination and limiting exposure as much as I can. There are a LOT of unvaccinated people out there, and who knows what new and exciting flavors of COVID are brewing in them or how well our vaccines will handle them? That risk worries me more than any variant we already know about.
posted by invincible summer at 1:23 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I'm risk averse and started going to the gym a month ago. I did my best to exercise while quarantined, but my ability to do that had dwindled to nothing, for various reasons. I felt terrible, physically. I don't have contact with children or other vulnerable people, I'm vaxxed, and I mask indoors, so I'm going to the gym. The benefits outweigh the risks for me.

(I don't think I understand the microcovid calculator. It's showing me that going to the gym is high risk, which is not in line with anything I've read about risk as a vaccinated person.)
posted by Mavri at 2:18 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

With Delta being the main variant in the US now and with vaccines being ~60-65% effective against it, I'm limiting my indoor activities and wear an N95 equivalent mask at all times in any public indoor space. Vaccines will still protect effectively against hospitalization and death, but they are far less effective in preventing infection with Delta. I know a number of people who are struggling with serious long-COVID after being infected (none required hospitalization) and will do whatever I can to avoid that. So, I'm not going to the gym and am getting far more strict again with my pod and my activities in public.
posted by quince at 2:28 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I also would have done this for a little while in the spring but not now, as cases are rising again. I’m not willing to risk long COVID, or even to risk being a potential (however unlikely) vector for transmission to immunocompromised people or those unable to be vaccinated, for any activity that is optional to me. For me, the gym would fall into that category.

Most people I know are in that same “time to get stricter again about how/if we go out” boat, so it doesn’t seem unusually risk averse to me. But then I socialize primarily within disabled communities, which often have a different take on risk and reward and chronic illness, so my community risk baseline could definitely be different than yours.

I would potentially do an outdoors fitness class at this point, if that’s an available/appealing option for you to consider!
posted by Stacey at 2:48 PM on July 20

With Delta being the main variant in the US now and with vaccines being ~60-65% effective against it

Literally one study. All the rest show significantly higher efficacy for the mRNA vaccines.
posted by praemunire at 2:49 PM on July 20 [10 favorites]

(I don't think I understand the microcovid calculator. It's showing me that going to the gym is high risk, which is not in line with anything I've read about risk as a vaccinated person.)

The provided link has the baseline set to "high caution" instead of standard or low caution, and that's the difference between high risk and low risk. This major setting is buried beneath the results, in a somewhat mindboggling UI decision.

And yeah, for me I guess a lot of it personally boils down to whether or not people who are vaccinated are significant shedders or not - if you are both highly unlikely to get it as a vaccinated individual and if you do get it you are equally unlikely to shed it to someone else (because it never gets a foothold to reproduce "enough" in your system), go ahead and get your cardio on? But if a vaccinated individual's response is merely asymptomatic (because the virus never replicates enough to make you symptomatic, but you are still a viral factory) and shedding viral particles like there's no tomorrow, probably not so much.
posted by Kyol at 3:43 PM on July 20 [4 favorites]

Been back at the gym since 2 wks + 2 days from my second Moderna shot. It was the second place I went, after the hair salon. I go to a boutique gym that's open 24/7 with access via key fob ... I usually go at times when there are few/no other people there, but that has been true all along and has to do with my schedule, not any intention around COVID issues.

I'm vaccinated, I'm safe, and I'm working on reversing the unhealthy effects of the 2020 quarantine by getting back into more activity. And I'm in a place with abysmallly (sp?) low vax rates. I got my shots, and I trust them to protect me, and I'm moving on with my life. Join me!!
posted by mccxxiii at 7:52 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I couldn't say what you should or shouldn't do, but here are some questions to consider asking:

Consider contacting your local gym(s) and asking what they are doing to keep Covid-safe. Are they holding classes outdoors, as someone else suggested? Keeping limits on the number of people? What are their busiest days and hours and could you go at a quieter time?
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:05 AM on July 21

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