Updated: Oct 18, 2021
In March, states in the U.S. initiated localized lockdowns, temporarily closing public spaces for health concerns. As states start to lift their lockdowns, public spaces have been redesigned in an effort to minimize transmission of COVID-19. However, sports facilities and gyms are under particular scrutiny because of the nature of sports. Heavy breathing, poor ventilation, and close contact in team sports pose specific risks for indoor sports facilities.
Heavy breathing is a sport-facility-specific COVID-19 concern. Wearing masks during high-intensity workouts can be dangerous, and lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, and trouble breathing. Therefore, this makes the mask requirement harder for gym and fitness centers to enforce. In addition, equipment at these facilities can’t be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, especially shared equipment, which harbors germs and bacteria. While it is recommended by the CDC to frequently disinfect high contact surfaces, especially between groups of people, this is not possible for every sport that must practice in certain locations (Ex. ice hockey or indoor basketball). Therefore, various sports facilities are reopening based on the nature of the sports practiced there.
According to the New York Times, gyms are still closed by state law in six states. In comparison, retail stores can open by law in all fifty states. This doesn’t account for closures by county, but it does show how states are more reluctant to open indoor fitness centers as compared to other public spaces.
Depending on how strict states are, each state has different policies for reopening. For example, North Carolina consistently ranks high for strictest COVID-19 restrictions. However, after push-back from people in support of reopening exercising facilities, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that indoor fitness centers will be allowed to reopen. These facilities are only allowed to operate at 30% capacity, which makes it hard for them to operate financially.
Travel restrictions also differ for states. The CDC recommends that sports should stay local and avoid interstate travelling and games when possible. In stricter states like Maine and Massachusetts, proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required within 72 hours of arrival in order to bypass an otherwise mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. This not only poses problems from teams that pull teammates from more than one state, but also puts pressure on sport facilities to verify the athlete’s status before allowing them to use the facility to train or exercise.
For indoor sports facilities that have team sports, concern over possible infection through teammates coming into close contact with each other has increased. However, team practice, with certain measures and precautions taken, is categorized as low risk by the CDC. The CDC advises teams to bring masks, use hand sanitizers that consist of at least 60% alcohol, bring their own drinking water and food, and disinfect between practices. The CDC also strongly advises athletes to practice social distancing and avoid sharing equipment.
Through Teen Lenses: Please describe how your sport facilities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Did they ever close, and if so, when did they reopen? Do they require masks at all times? Are they taking other preventative measures (ex. temperature checks, contact tracing, sanitization) as well? Are you concerned about the transmission of COVID-19 even with the precautions taken by the sports facilities?
“[Ice] rinks initially closed around here in late March and did not open until June. When they did reopen, many required temperature checks and sanitation as well as wearing masks. Some rinks, depending on the number of skaters on the ice, will allow you to remove a mask; at [Medstar Capitals Iceplex] it is less than fifteen. I feel like most rinks do a pretty good job, so I’m not too worried about transmission but you never know how everyone else is spending their time. Even if you’re being careful, they may not be.” Alexandra Strizek, 17, Senior at George C Marshall High School, Falls Church, Virginia
“My dance studio closed along with MCPS at the end of March … My dance studio opened June 22, but things are definitely not the same as what they were pre-covid. Our largest studio that used to hold classes of 20+ people now can only accommodate classes of eleven. When we enter the building, temperature checks are taken and everyone is required to sanitize their hands. Once in the studio room, every dancer is assigned a spot for where to put their belongings, and the barre spots are numbered as well. When we dance across the floor we go in groups of one or two, whereas we used to go in groups of 4-6. I used to be fearful about the transmission of COVID-19, but in the middle of the summer I started working as an intern at the studio and learned more about the sanitization process, which now makes me feel much more comfortable because of the precautions I know our studio is taking. All common touch points are sanitized every two hours as recommended by the MD state guidelines for COVID relief. All barres are disinfected between every class, and the studio floors are disinfected nightly. Something that people found difficult at first in our transition is our studio’s requirement to wear masks at all times. Ballet is a very athletic sport so it was difficult to breathe at first, but after a few weeks we all began to feel more comfortable in our masks. Another thing that has changed is the classes that we are able to take. Something that is very important for a ballet dancer is having the ability to partner with a male dancer. I took a partnering class that I enjoyed a lot last year, but we are unable to take it this year because social distancing cannot be maintained.” Merril Heitz, 17, Senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Potomac, Maryland
“My field hockey team’s facility closed and we did practice over zoom for a while. They also organized small group practices outside. They recently reopened but have only done small groups and not entire teams. When we get there, I wear my mask and they take my temperature before I go in. We take our masks off for practice once we are inside. I’m not super concerned about COVID when I go there but I usually sanitize after and clean my clothes right away” Maeryn Erdheim, 16, Junior at Magruder High School, Derwood, Maryland
“The indoor facility that I practiced at with my club field hockey team before covid has been open since around the beginning of summer I think but there haven’t been any large group practices there. I have only attended small private lessons with two of my teammates at the indoor facility since the pandemic started. Face masks are required when inside the facility except for when we are actually on the turf practicing. My coach will also check our temperature at the door when we get there and we don’t touch any of the shared equipment. For the most part I am not really concerned with transmission during the times that I have practiced in the indoor facility given the precautions taken, but I am not sure what other people have been doing when at the indoor facility.” Maggie Spire, 16, Junior at Montgomery Blair HS, Kensington, Maryland