Is It Safe to go to the Gym in the Midst of the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Gyms and especially exercise classes can be particularly grody environments. Here's what you need to know.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
man sitting down at gym barbells
Photo by Maxim Zarya via Getty Images

Update (3/19/2020): At this point, we strongly advise you to stay home from the gym—and from everything else, as much as possible! All projections about the spread of COVID-19 in the coming weeks point to the need for self-isolation in order to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spike in new cases as much as possible. This is especially critical due to botched responses from federal and local authorities; severely limited testing availability in the U.S. such that we have a very uncertain picture of how the virus is progressing; and a lack of life-saving medical resources like ventilators. Try working out at home instead. You might like it. Original post below.


For anyone who lives and works in an area affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, things are decidedly not normal right now. Whether you’ve also contracted cabin fever after about two days of working from home or had to define a situationship out of sheer paranoia, you’re probably scrambling to keep up routines whenever possible and freaking out a little while you’re at it. Regular exercise is one of the most basic ways to mitigate stress and maintain some semblance of structure in our daily lives. But is it… safe… to go to the gym?

Bring your own cleaning products

According to Chris Amos, interim chief of Baylor College of Medicine’s Epidemiology And Population Sciences section, it’s OK to pump in the time of coronavirus, with the right precautions. “A problem with routine exercise will be with handling equipment,” Amos told VICE via email. “Carrying handiwipes to wipe off equipment prior to its use would be best.” He also cautioned against going overboard: “I think extreme exercise should be avoided, because it is stressful.” In addition to those handiwipes, we advise that you wipe your hands… after you wash them… and avoid touching your face, especially in a gym environment.

Weigh the pros and cons

Amos’s advice echoes the New York Times report suggesting gym members carry their own sanitizing gear, in spite of promises from fitness companies like Equinox that “additional steps are being taken during the peak flu season and as concerns about the coronavirus grow.” And according to a report from Health, maintaining a fitness regimen in spite of COVID-19 has concrete benefits. "Overall, I want my patients to keep moving every day," Jordan Metzl, MD sports medicine physician, told the magazine. "This keeps the body and immune system primed and ready to fight infection, which is extremely important for everyone."

Avoid big exercise classes

While there’s no need to halt gym-going entirely, Amos did suggest that it may be time to abstain from other forms of working out. “Exercise classes are a problem if they are too crowded or have more than a few members (classes with less than 15 members are better),” he told VICE. “Also, contact sports are a problem and should be avoided during an epidemic.”

Do not expose others to germs

Also, I literally do not know who needs to hear this because I can’t imagine being this kind of person, but do not go to the gym if you’re sick right now. In general, experts say you’re in the clear to exercise if your symptoms are limited to above-the-neck only, like a runny nose, a sore throat, nasal congestion, or sneezing; below-the-neck symptoms like body aches, nausea, chest congestion, or fever should be enough to bench you during a regular bout of illness. But these are not regular times! Going to the gym sick in the midst of a serious viral outbreak is not worth all the dirty looks you’ll receive (not to mention the germs you may very well be spreading).

Keep your workout on lockdown

And, when in doubt, there’s always the option of working out at home. You probably can’t do as much from your living room as you could from a fully stocked Planet Fitness, but it’s definitely better than nothing. If you are feeling under the weather, maintaining home isolation is the non-selfish option, and if you’re feeling paranoid, there’s no need to stoke your fears in pursuit of wellness. Just pop on some Yoga With Adriene or download an app. You’re probably already dressed for yoga anyway. It’s going to be fine.

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