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.”
Despite all the safety guidelines, some fitness enthusiasts are reluctant to go back and many have adapted to virtual workouts and exercising outdoors. Sales of fitness equipment like kettlebells and Peloton bikes have skyrocketed as people brought their workouts home.
Christopher Carbone plans to cancel his membership at a Planet Fitness branch near his home on Staten Island because of concerns about people who touch “the same equipment many times and excess sweat and breathing in range of others.”
Instead of going to the gym, Mr. Carbone will keep working out at home with a small set of hand weights.
In normal times, gyms often served as places of solace, where fitness buffs and casual exercisers could sweat out the stresses of the day.
Many former patrons are eager to return to their routines, and gym owners desperately need their business.
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