Relieved to Be Back at the Gym, but Is It Safe?

The coronavirus has made a routine trip to the gym feel like a health threat.

Many epidemiologists consider gyms to be among the highest-risk environments, and they were some of the last businesses to reopen in New York City in early September.

Now gyms must comply with a long list of regulations. Checking in requires a health screening; masks are mandatory, even during the most strenuous workouts; only one-third of normal occupancy is allowed; and everyone must clean, then clean some more.

At a Planet Fitness in Brooklyn, Dinara Izmagambetova, who wore a floral black face mask and had a sheen of sweat after completing a two-hour workout, said she was thrilled to be back in a gym. But safety measures had made it a less sociable experience, she said.

“I could ask someone” how to use a machine before the outbreak, Ms. Izmagambetova said. “Now I’m doing a lot of Googling.”

But even as gyms have reopened, their future remains unclear. Some of them have had to shut down again after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently designated parts of Brooklyn and Queens coronavirus hot spots.

A Retro Fitness location in Rego Park, Queens, formerly in one of Mr. Cuomo’s “red zones,” expressed regret about closing on its Facebook page.

“We have done our best to stay open as long as possible to serve you,” the post said, adding, “We support the city/county’s decision as being in the best interest of our members, staff, and community to help curb the spread of Coronavirus.”

The gym was recently allowed to reopen as some restrictions were eased.

Despite scientists’ concerns, infection clusters connected to gyms in the United States have been relatively rare so far, though they have been reported in Hawaii and California.

“We’re not seeing outbreaks tied to gyms as heavily as something like a bar or school,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist from George Mason University.

Still, a number of the 2,000 or so gyms in New York State and fitness centers across the country face a fight for life. At least one-fourth of the more than 40,000 gyms in the United States could close by the end of the year, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, an industry group. A study by Yelp said that more than 2,600 already had.

Many of those that have closed are smaller, independently owned businesses that have fewer resources than large national chains like Planet Fitness, L.A. Fitness and Equinox.

Planet Fitness furloughed most of its employees during the pandemic, but about 85 percent of them have returned to work and no locations closed, Mr. Rondeau said.

Dr. Popescu said she believed that “the virtual approach” to inspections “is frankly better than nothing, which is what many have done.”

Whatever the risk factor, gyms are certainly different these days.

On a recent weekend at a large Planet Fitness branch in Brooklyn, a masked greeter asked clients whether they had coronavirus symptoms, then collected their contact information.

Television screens flashed reminders to disinfect workout stations, and every other treadmill and elliptical machine was blocked out with yellow-and-purple signs that said, “We’re practicing social fitnessing. This machine is not available for use.” Even so, there were few people working out.

One of them was Dana Fagan, a bookkeeper, 41, who said she was pleased by the precautions being taken.

“I’m cleaning more — the whole thing is wet and I’m fine with that,” she said about disinfecting the equipment. “You can never have enough.”

Mr. Guanilo’s boutique gym normally offers group classes, physical therapy and individual sessions with trainers. The more controlled atmosphere at his gym, where patrons have individual sessions if they’re not in a group class, appeals to people who are concerned about infection, like Joshua Rubin, a 38-year-old director at an accounting firm.

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