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The One Place Where COVID is More Likely to Spread Now

Cases continue to rise.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID-19 rates continue their upward climb nationwide, driven by the extremely contagious BA.12.2.1 variant. Rates are rising in almost every state, at the same time Americans are making decisions about what's safe to do, balancing the need for physical and mental health with the desire to avoid COVID. One study released this week shed light on why one scenario may be a "startling" risk. Here's why, and what experts say you can do to protect yourself. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The One Place COVID Is More Likely to Spread

woman boxing in a gym

A new article in the New York Times says that the gym is one place where the air is more likely to spread COVID. The evidence: A new study that showed people who are exercising expel an exponentially larger number of respiratory particles than they do at rest.

That could be considered common sense, but the study's findings were more dramatic than expected; the Times health writer called the evidence "rather startling." 

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, measured the number of aerosol particles expelled by a small group of people in active and resting situations. These type of particles can spread the coronavirus if inhaled. The researchers found that at rest, "the men and women breathed out about 500 particles per minute," the Times reported. "But when they exercised, that total soared 132-fold, topping out above 76,000 particles per minute, on average, during the most strenuous exertion."


Other Studies Have Found Gyms Can Be Risky

woman tying sneakers at gym

The study applies some serious quantification to other research that has found that gyms—which are traditionally poorly ventilated, crowded, and packed with people breathing hard—can be a prime risk for COVID transmission. 

A study published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology calculated the riskiest places for catching COVID. The researchers determined that risk depends on people factors (such as whether people are masked or unmasked, exercising or still, vocalizing or quiet) and air-quality factors (such as indoors vs. outdoors, a big room vs. a small room, crowded vs. uncrowded, or ventilated vs. unventilated). According to a risk table the researchers developed, the place with the highest risk is a crowded, poorly ventilated area where people are exercising heavily.


So Is Going to the Gym Safe?

young woman flexing muscles with dumbbell in gym

Health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, have said that Americans need to assess their individual risk tolerance in deciding what to do and where to go as the COVID era continues. An expert in a new Time article about the study reiterated this about indoor gyms. "If you're not willing to get COVID don't go," said Dr. Michael Klompas, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "At a time like now, when there's a lot of COVID around, it is a high risk proposition."

But exercise is important—for stress relief, for weight maintenance, for overall health including a healthy immune system. Experts said if you're concerned about exercising indoors, ask your gym's management to open the windows or install filtration systems, observe social distancing, and mask up. Or exercise outdoors, particularly if COVID rates are high in your area: Here's where to check.


How to Stay Safe Out There


Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael