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COVID-19 cases rise in Whatcom County; gyms open with safety precautions

How gyms aim to stop the spread with support of the Health Department

A woman stands in front of exercise equipment in an inside indoor gym facility. As Whatcom county proceeds into Phase 2, indoor gyms take safety precautions to stop the spread. // Courtesy of Danielle Cerullo

By Adela Cruz

Weeks after Whatcom County hit a record number of COVID-19 cases, fitness centers are preparing to reopen their doors. 

The week of Jan. 18 to Jan. 22, the Whatcom County COVID-19 Data Dashboard reported 247 new cases in the span of a 4-day period — over 60 cases per day.

Whatcom County was approved for the new reopening plan on Jan. 11 before the next COVID-19 spike occurred a week later. 

With permission from the state, gyms proceeded to reopen their doors with established safety precautions to avoid shutting down again. Bellingham Fitness is just one of the many gyms that reopened its doors to the public. 

“In early January, we implemented a new data monitoring system that better allows us to track cases that maybe have originated at gyms or fitness studios,” epidemiologist Andrew Ross said in an email interview. “We’ve only identified one case that appears to be related to exposure at a gym or fitness studio.”

As of the interview conducted with Ross on Jan. 29, this is the most recent data available since beginning the new data monitoring system in Whatcom County.

Bellingham Fitness owner Todd Sheehan said the safety precautions implemented include required mask-wearing, temperature checks and sanitizing spray bottles to clean before and after machine use. All members are required to sign a waiver to comply with gym safety rules. 

Bellingham Fitness has also implemented the use of a handheld sanitizing machine called the electrostatic sprayer. The electrostatic sprayer is designed to disinfect large indoor spaces, such as fitness facilities, schools, offices, and businesses. 

“[The members] have become accustomed to [wearing masks], although we have lost some members because of it,” Sheehan said. “If that’s the law, then I’m gonna follow it.”

Although the Whatcom County Health Department does not directly contact fitness centers about necessary safety precautions, fitness and gym studios should take diligent precautions themselves with some help from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Health Department Director Erika Lautenbach said.

”We do have dedicated staff who are available to answer questions,” Lautenbach said. “We encourage any fitness centers that have questions to contact us.”

Despite COVID-19 cumulative counts increasing throughout January, Lautenbach said the Health Department supports Gov. Jay Inslee’s current Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery and its guidance for fitness centers. 

The Health Department will provide the support needed by fitness centers to implement CDC guidelines in order to make it as safe as possible, Lautenbach said.  

According to the most recent data provided in the COVID-19 Confirmed Cases by Industry Sector document, only 1% of COVID-19 cases recorded in Washington state are known to have originated from gym facilities.

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