A government-funded study in Oslo, Norway, found no cases of COVID-19 were transmitted due to gym use during the two weeks of a trial, according to a preprint of the study published on June 25. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.
“Our trial showed no virus transmission or increase in COVID-19 disease related to opening of training facilities providing good hygiene and social distancing routines,” the study's authors wrote. “The results of our trial shows that with these easy and simple to adhere mitigations, training facilities are safe and may be allowed to re-open.”
Based on the findings, the Norwegian government reopened gyms in the country on June 15 with the requirement that gyms follow the hygiene and distancing measures applied in the trial.
One of the leaders of the study, Dr. Michael Bretthauer, who is a cancer screening expert at the University of Oslo, told the New York Times, “I personally think this is generalizable, with one caveat. There may be places where there is a lot of COVID, or where people are less inclined to follow restrictions.”
Oslo, which has a population of 681,000 has had a low incidence of COVID-19 cases. During the trial period, Oslo had a rate of infection in the first week of 3.5 per 100,000 inhabitants and 11.7 per 100,000 in the second week.
Mette Kalager, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Oslo and another of the study’s authors, told Science Magazine that while the results may not apply in locations where COVID-19 rates are higher, gyms are safe in cities with low numbers. She and the other authors of the study are planning another trial of reopened gyms in Oslo with a higher number of participants.
Still, gyms in Austria and Germany have gradually been reopening since May, and so far, no outbreaks in either country have been linked to health clubs. Gyms in both countries must follow specific distancing and cleaning measures.
The government in Norway closed health clubs on March 12, but for the purpose of the study, five gyms in Oslo were allowed to open their facilities on May 22 only to study participants for a trial period that ran through June 9.
The study had 3,764 participants: 1,896 were allowed to exercise at the facilities and 1,868 people in a control group were not allowed in any health clubs. Study participants were between the ages of 18 and 64 without any increased risk for severe COVID-19.
Club staff members were tasked with ensuring only the training group entered their facility.
Of the training group, 81.8 percent trained at least once at the facility while 38.5 percent trained six times or more during the trial period.
On June 8 or 9, participants in the training group and the no-training group used a home test kit to collect saliva, oropharynx and nose samples. The participants then took those samples to their gym for drop off.
Of the training group, 88.7 percent took the test with one person testing positive, but that person had not used the facility until the day of the test. Further investigation and tracing led the government to conclude the person was exposed at their workplace rather than at the gym. For the no-training team, 71.4 percent took the COVID-19 test with none testing positive.
Employees at the health clubs also were allowed to take a COVID-19 test after the study period. Of the 91 employees at the facilities during the trial period, 83 took a COVID-19 trial period and all tested negative.
Follow ups are planned with the study participants, looking at hospital admission for the two groups after 21 days and long-term follow up for antibodies after 30 days with comparison of ICU admissions and ventilator treatments and deaths from COVID-19 after three months.
For the training group, masks were not required, but members were advised to avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
The following safety measures were put in place at the five facilities:
- No handshaking or other person-to-person contact
- One meter distancing between people at all times
- Two meter distancing during high-intensity workouts (indoor cycling, group exercise classes)
- Disinfectants placed at all workout stations
- Members required to clean equipment after use
- Staff required to do regular facility cleaning
- Club required to control access to the facility to ensure no overcrowding so distancing measures could be adhered to
- Locker rooms were opened but showers and saunas remained closed
- Lids removed from trash cans
- Members and staff advised to stay home if feeling ill.
- Exercisers were allowed to work out on the cardio and strength floors as well as to do group classes such as indoor cycling and yoga.
Oslo’s Rate Of COVID-19
During the study period, 4,408 people in Oslo were tested for COVID-19 who were not part of the trial with 105 testing positive. The rate of positive tests was 1.1 percent in the first week of the trial and 3.6 percent in the second.
COVID-19-related hospitalization in the city decreased from a daily number of 35 patients on May 22 to 21 patients on June 8.