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How gyms and yoga studios are preparing for the coronavirus

As the coronavirus continues to spread, gyms and yoga studios across the country have taken steps to reassure their clients that they are keeping their spaces clean and sanitary. (iStock)

The email blasts from gyms, yoga centers, cycling facilities and barre studios started hitting inboxes en masse last week, with messages such as, “Let’s stay calm and healthy together,” “Clean is kind,” “A warm smile is better than a handshake.”

The missives included specifics about the businesses’ stepped-up efforts to sanitize their fitness spaces, such as disinfecting high-touch surfaces, adding more access to disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers, and including doorknobs in cleaning routines.

The Bar Method in Bethesda emailed students to say that it was “wiping down and sanitizing weights, straps and mats daily and temporarily limiting their use of balls and of hands-on adjustments.”

Life Time, which operates 152 high-end health clubs, sent emails to its nearly 2 million members on March 4, telling them that the fitness centers are adding more cleaning staff hours and installing more Purell stands, according to Natalie Bushaw, spokeswoman for Life Time’s corporate office. The message included current data on the coronavirus and tips for keeping your immune system working optimally, including sleep, sunshine and exercise. The intent of the email, it stated, was “to offer pragmatic steps we all can take to keep . . . ourselves, our family and friends, and our communities healthy and safe, while minimizing panic.”

As of early March, people have tested positive for the coronavirus in about 70 countries. Officials are taking "unprecedented" actions. (Video: The Washington Post)

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In addressing the growing concerns about how to limit the potential spread of covid-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — in places Americans gather to lift weights and practice yoga, the emails shared a common theme: We are doing our best to step up efforts to keep the place clean and safe for you, and we would like you to do the same for yourself and your fellow students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends everyday preventive actions to avoid the spread of respiratory disease — wash your hands frequently and distance yourself from those who are coughing or sick,” said the email from CorePower Yoga. “If you aren’t feeling well, we ask that you please stay home from class for your well-
being and that of your fellow students and teachers.”

Last week, I received an email from Circle Yoga, where I take classes. Anne Kennedy, the executive director of the studio in Northwest Washington, sends an email most winters during cold and flu season to ask students to stay home when they are sick. “People are practicing in close proximity. Everyone wants to come to their yoga class, but when people are sneezing they get uncomfortable,” she says. Anxiety over the coronavirus gives this year’s email a more serious tone. “This is landing in a different climate,” she says. “I wanted to acknowledge that we are on it — we are concerned and these are some things we think you can do.”

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Glenn Wortmann, section director of infectious diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says: “We don’t know if yoga mats or gym surfaces will present an opportunity to catch covid-19.”

He suggests following general recommendations on how to clean surfaces and points to a CDC link ( that outlines cleaning practices for families who have someone living with them who has coronavirus.

His main advice: Stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. “The primary way the virus is spread is through droplets. If somebody sneezes and coughs and you are within six feet of the person, you would inhale those droplets.”

Wortman added: “Just because you find a virus on a surface doesn’t mean if you put it on your hand you will get [covid-19]. For many infections, an inoculum effect must be there — a certain amount of the pathogen has to be present to cause an infection. It’s sometimes difficult to interpret the findings of these studies.”

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Iantha Carley, an interior designer who goes to a yoga studio in Silver Spring, says she has already noticed classes are more sparsely attended. “I was shocked at how few people came to class last Sunday. On a normal day, we have to adjust our mats to make room for more people,” she says.

Carley says bringing her own mat and blankets to class makes her feel more in control. “Sharing these items with hundreds of people each week left a lot to be desired,” she says.

Circle Yoga, which has more than 80 classes a week and 800 students, provides mats and mat cleaners for students. Between sessions, it does a scrubbing and deep cleaning of the mats. Blankets, however, are another matter.

“They are cotton and polyester, and we have to take them to a commercial laundry,” Kennedy says. “We can’t wash hundreds of blankets every day. It’s just not an option.”

She tells students that if they have concerns about the blankets, they may want to bring their own or just not use them at all.

Mary-Anne Liles recently inquired about the frequency of the cleaning of the wooden bar in her barre fitness studio. The studio announced this week that it is cleaning the barres after every class and asked students to wipe them down as well.

“This virus is a real wake-up call on hygiene in gyms,” says Liles, a nurse for the Arlington County School Health Bureau. “People take it for granted, but you have to ask questions.” She added: “One concern is that people don’t want to cancel a class and lose $30 for doing so. Gyms might need more lenient cancellation policies.”

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Wortmann says it is important to focus on the big picture right now.

“Avoid sick people. Don’t worry so much about the blankets. There is no way to know how long a germ will live on a blanket,” he says.

If the disease does come to your area, which it may, then focus on avoiding people and keeping social distance, “which means not going to the gym until it blows over.”

As for gym owners, Wortmann says, they should ensure that hand-cleaning methods are readily available for members throughout gym floors so that people can clean their hands on the way in — and as they cycle around from machine to machine. “Have some signs up reminding people that come in,” he says.

Although athletes tend to work out no matter what, he says, “if they are sick, they should stay home. They should then work out in their basements.”

Tasha Eichenseher, digital editor of Yoga Journal, a major source of information for the yoga community since 1975, has been “seeing emails and social posts from studio owners and teachers about canceled events, bolstered cleaning procedures and reminders to stay home if you are sick,” she says via email. “Yoga teachers are trying to offer peace of mind amidst the uncertainty and fear. And they must be anxious themselves about empty classes and postponed trainings and private sessions — some of the primary ways teachers are able to make a living in this industry.”

Wanderlust, which operates yoga businesses and produces multiday yoga and music wellness gatherings globally, has had to regroup because of virus concerns. It posted on Instagram on March 1 that because of potential disruptions by the virus, it has canceled its three U.S. festivals scheduled for 2020. It had already canceled a number of overseas events. The gatherings include thousands of participants doing yoga and other activities together in close range.

“These are truly in the mass-participation-event category,” says Sean I. Hoess, Wanderlust’s chief executive. “Ask yourself whether anyone would be buying a ticket to an event like that with 24/7 coverage of the coronavirus?”

So now, stuck with shelves full of yoga gear and other branded merchandise, has a huge clearance sale going on. The discount code:

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Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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