Day 151 – I’m not saying don’t do it, but …

…this microbiologist is staying away for just a little while longer.

Level 2 lockdown, arriving last Tuesday, means more of the economy can open up again. Balancing viral infection versus economy, the scale and effect of each, and retrospectively examining what should have been done has become a divisive, bitter and typically polarised debate, and is for another post, another time and – quite possibly – another person.

So that’s really not what this is about.

Gym is what this is about.

Gym is somewhere that I used to go several times a week BTV and is something that I generally enjoyed. A quick cycle here, a quick sprint there and some lifting of generally rather heavy things meant that my gains were lekker, boet* and my body was literally flooded with several (or more) endorphins, which was very nice.

My gym reopened this week, but I’m not going back.

In my considered (some might even say “professional”, but let’s not push things unnecessarily) opinion, gym is not a safe place to be right now.

There are two reasons for this.

The first one is a South African reason: the government’s hand has been forced on relaxing the lockdown. We simply do not have a strong enough economy to continue limiting business and “normal life” anymore.  SA’s infections have spread in different places at different times, prolonging lockdown: we were almost through the storm here in the Western Cape, while it was only just beginning elsewhere. And while a lot of the graphs and statistics show that we are probably past the worst, in all likelihood, if government policy was to use a harder lockdown to avoid further spread of Covid-19, they would probably have chosen to leave that harder lockdown in place for a while longer yet. (As I said, the argument about whether lockdown is/was a good thing is for another time and place.)

Thus, the virus is still very much with us and, given this opening up of bars, restaurants, businesses, and yes: gyms, it’s likely that we’ll see something of a resurgence in infections over the next few weeks. We’ve seen this pattern all over the world. In our case, this resurgence is likely to be somewhat worse than we might like, because we still have a significant number of cases circulating, meaning that the pool of potential infection is larger than we might like.

Secondly (and sadly), going to gym is one of those activities during which you are more likely to get infected with SARS-CoV-2. Nothing personal against gyms, it’s just one of those things.

This piece (shared by the NICD, nogal!) shares some of the reasons why gymming is higher risk than other things you could be doing.
It’s a list whose contents you might have seen on this blog before.

Gym is inside.
People breathe more deeply when exercising, potentially spreading more virus, and further.
You cough and splutter more as you push your exercise (see above).
Gym is full of smooth, metal, high frequency touch surfaces: weights, bars, handles etc etc. These are great surfaces for the virus to survive on.
When you sweat, you touch your face more. And when when you touch your face, you’re more likely to spread the stuff you picked up from the surfaces to somewhere where it can enter your body (eyes, nose, mouth).

It’s an infectious virus’ paradise.

And then we have the human element. Because while there are a lot of things you can do to mitigate that higher risk, you’re also relying on other people in the gym doing them too.

And to be honest, that’s not going to happen.

Masks are not going to worn (at the very least, not worn properly).
Equipment is not going to be cleaned after each use: we’re supposed to do that already and virtually no-one does.
Social distancing is not going to be respected: no-one does it in shops or anywhere else, why would they manage it here?

The cleaning team at my gym are actually noticeably brilliant. Happy, helpful, unintrusive and really, really thorough. But how are they going to keep up with people swapping machines left, right and centre? And if they can’t keep up, how clean are those machines going to be, and many of those privileged, “healthy” gym members are going to wait for 30 seconds or a minute or however long and not just shrug and get on with their workout?


For all those reasons, it is, sadly, just not a safe situation.

I like my gym and I miss my gym, and of course, if you feel the same and you want to go back: that’s entirely your call.


I’m not saying don’t do it, but this microbiologist is staying away for just a little while longer.


* they weren’t; and I don’t speak like this at all.