” Is it safe?” This is the question that Laurence Olivier asks Dustin Hoffman repeatedly in Marathon Man as he tortures him using dental instruments. It made trips to the dentists more difficult after seeing the 1976 film which was directed by John Schlesinger who I ran into in LA a decade later. That is a story for another day.
I am being asked this question now by fortunate patients who have been vaccinated against Covid 19. The CDC is working on new guidelines, but I will give you my opinion until they do. There is no safe. There is only reduced risk.
Let’s review the Texas Medical Association’s chart of risk. Let’s pick working out at a gym. How safe is that? Not very from this chart. I know of one patient personally who contracted Covid-19 by working out at a boot camp at a gym where mask wearing was strictly enforced. Here is a summary of a couple of studies from Journal Watch. The studies were from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly and I am including the links.
Fitness centers: Two articles in MMWR highlight the high risk for COVID-19 transmission at indoor fitness centers. In the first, two thirds of 81 people who attended indoor classes at a Chicago gym during the last week of August 2020 developed COVID-19. Of these cases, three fourths attended classes during their infectious period, including some who were symptomatic. Many said they infrequently wore masks (less than 60% of the time). In the second article, researchers report on 21 COVID-19 cases linked to a fitness instructor at Hawaii exercise facilities. The instructor had taught classes before he developed symptoms. Of note, when the instructor wore a mask for a yoga class, none of the unmasked attendees developed COVID-19. When he did not wear a mask for other classes, the COVID-19 attack rate was as high as 100%. The authors of the first article note that “the increased respiratory exertion that occurs in the enclosed spaces of indoor exercise facilities facilitates transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
I go to a small private gym. They require masks except when you are using aerobic equipment. This is obviously when you are at most at risk of spreading it. There is nothing magic about being separated by six feet especially if the person on the machine next to you is huffing and puffing. If I use a stationary bike, I choose one that is far away from all the other machines. I go when it isn’t busy and I wear a mask. I would feel comfortable lifting weights there when others are masked, but I do other strength training at home. Being immunized helps to reduce the risk of getting sick, but doesn’t eliminate it. I think you can venture out as long as you remain vigilant. There is no safe, but there is safer.
Next time I will try to cover dining out.