People willing to wear a face mask to reduce COVID-19 transmission are asking if they need to wear a mask while working out in the gym. The answer is yes. You should wear a mask working out in the gym even if you are vaccinated. Even if you are social distancing. Even if your gym doesn’t require mask wearing.
COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. These droplets are released when someone with COVID-19 sneezes, coughs, talks, or breathes heavy. People exercising are breathing heavier which means droplets are being expelled at an accelerated rate and volume. The droplets can travel farther distances. The more exertion the heavier the breathing. High intensity training in gyms and fitness centers produces heavy breathing and greater risk of contact with other patrons.
Full vaccination offers the best protection against COVID-19, In California, unvaccinated people were 83 times more likely to be infected with Covid between Jan 1 – Jul 22, 2021. Vaccination isn’t 100% effective, however. There is a very slight chance of getting a breakthrough infection. While a gym may require vaccination there is no way to provide bonified proof of vaccination. Everyone is on the honor system. Simply put, sharing gym space with unvaccinated people is much less risky when wearing a mask.
Early in the pandemic mask wearing was recommended but there wasn’t much scientific proof available. That situation has changed. Today, there is ample proof that mask wearing greatly reduces the risk of getting COVID-19. There are many scientific peer-reviewed studies available about mask wearing. Anyone can read the scientific literature and draw their own conclusions.
Is mask wearing perfect? No. But even if face masks are only 20% effective and only 25% of the population used them, infection would be reduced by 30%. (1) Do we want to wear masks? No. Few people enjoy it, but mask wearing is the most simple and least costly method of protection against a deadly disease.
There have been documented COVID-19 cases with origins in gyms and fitness centers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidance about gyms following research into high coronavirus transmission rates in Hawaii and Chicago in the summer of 2020. The CDC recommends wearing a mask at fitness centers even after being vaccinated and practicing social distancing. The CDC said increased respiratory exertion facilitates Covid transmission. In Hawaii, 30 fitness members in 3 facilities tested positive after coming into contact with a fitness trainer who was positive for COVID-19. In Chicago, an infected fitness trainer led to an outbreak of 55 COVID-19 cases among the membership. (2, 3)
On March 10, 2021, an asymptomatic fitness trainer in Hong Kong tested positive for coronavirus. The fitness center was closed, and 300 visitors were tested and 101 positive cases were confirmed. Another 53 cases were detected from people in close contact with the fitness center visitors. (4)
Many studies are available showing the benefits of mask wearing as a precaution for COVID-19. A few studies are presented here.
A peer-reviewed study published in Health Affairs medical journal studied the community spread of COVID-19 before and after a mask mandate was enacted. Using data analysis and modeling, the study showed after within 1 to 5 days of the start of the mandate daily case rates dropped nearly 1%. Within 21 or more days, they dropped 2%. (5)
Universal mask adoption for people in public is recommended by a peer-reviewed study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. Researchers. Researchers reviewed 150 other studies and stated, “The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts.” (6)
A peer-reviewed study about the substantial decline of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Australia was published in July 2021 on scholarly site PLOS One. Mask mandates drove mask usage in public places rose from 43% to 97% and resulted in a plunge in new COVID-19 cases. The authors strongly support mask usage in communities. (7)
- C Raina MacIntyre, MBBS (Hons 1), FRACP, FAFPHM, M App Epid, PhD, S Jay Hasanain, MD, (Retired), Community universal face mask use during the COVID 19 pandemic—from households to travellers and public spaces, Journal of Travel Medicine, Volume 27, Issue 3, April 2020, taaa056, https://doi.org/10.1093/jtm/taaa056
- Groves LM, Usagawa L, Elm J, et al. Community Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at Three Fitness Facilities — Hawaii, June–July 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:316–320. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7009e1
- Lendacki FR, Teran RA, Gretsch S, Fricchione MJ, Kerins JL. COVID-19 Outbreak Among Attendees of an Exercise Facility — Chicago, Illinois, August–September 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:321–325. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7009e2external icon.
- Chu D, Gu H, Chang L, Cheuk S, Gurung S, Krishnan P, et al. SARS-CoV-2 Superspread in Fitness Center, Hong Kong, China, March 2021. Emerg Infect Dis. 2021;27(8):2230-2232. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2708.210833
- Lyu, W., Wehby, G. Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US. Health Affairs Vol. 39, No. 8. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818
- Edited by Meyers, L.A. An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19. PNAS January 26, 2021 118 (4) e2014564118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014564118
- A peer-reviewed study about the substantial decline of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Australia was Scott N, Saul A, Spelman T, Stoove M, Pedrana A, Saeri A, et al. (2021) The introduction of a mandatory mask policy was associated with significantly reduced COVID-19 cases in a major metropolitan city. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0253510. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253510