Richard Carmona
| Especially for CalMatters

As Governor Gavin Newsom suspends the state’s stay-at-home orders, there is significant focus on helping businesses reopen safely. While staying at home is the safest way to minimize risks, keeping people in their homes is difficult and can ultimately affect their physical and mental health.

Physical inactivity has increased significantly over the past 10 months, which is problematic for cardiovascular health and immunity. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the pandemic raised levels of anxiety and suicide during the pandemic among high-risk populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, key workers, caregivers, and one in four young adults caused depressive disorders.

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However, exercise has been shown to dramatically improve both physical and mental health outcomes, and for many, the only safe place to exercise is a fitness center.

In California, where open-air training could resume soon, indoor fitness centers are under consideration. Contact tracing data shows fitness centers are not a major spreading factor for the virus. They account for just 0.06% of the prevalence in communities where they are open – less than retail stores, construction sites, salons, and car dealerships.

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As a US surgeon general, I coordinated with states to develop a unified national health policy. Today we have a few heads of state including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Governor Lujan Grisham who have reopened fitness centers with appropriate public health measures given the low risk of gyms.

Meanwhile, California leaders have been encouraging citizens to “go outside” or “go for a walk on the beach” to exercise. Newsom recently tweeted that “mental health is physical health” and “now it’s so important to stay active and connected”.

While this is good advice, public health policy cannot ignore the fact that many Californians simply cannot exercise effectively at home or outdoors due to poor air quality, a lack of recreational spaces, or the inability to purchase and maintain fitness equipment and subscriptions at home. In addition, many people have already customized their own exercise regimen for the best results in a well-equipped gym.

To find a solution, large fitness facilities have come together to develop a reopening plan that follows CDC and other public health recommendations.

The California Safe Fitness Plan, if implemented, would be the strictest requirements in the country yet still provide critical access to fitness. The plan provides for limited capacity, a greater physical distance of 12 feet – double the national 6 foot standard – mandatory face coverings, and a record of every person entering a fitness facility for contact tracking.

In addition, the plan would require disinfecting equipment every 20 minutes during operating hours, closing it overnight from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. to disinfect all surfaces and equipment, and closing all communal locker rooms and showers while a region is in the Purple Tier “Is located. ”

Perhaps most importantly, large fitness facilities allow for greater airflow and robust air circulation systems. According to the California plan, fitness centers would have to use a MERV-13 air filtration standard.

The closure of indoor fitness centers has meant that California’s vulnerable populations – already disproportionately affected by the pandemic – are struggling even more with their physical and mental health.

I experienced homelessness, hunger, and health inequalities in my youth, which helped me understand the importance of ensuring that all sections of the population have access to interventions that help improve overall health outcomes.

COVID-19 has posed serious healthcare challenges and difficult choices for policy makers. However, large fitness facilities want to be part of the solution by offering the implementation of strict safety protocols that allow individuals to improve their overall physical and mental health while minimizing the risk of COVID transmission.

Contact Richard Carmona, 17th US surgeon general and on the Advisory Board to the Chancellor of the University of California, Davis, at [email protected]. He wrote this for CalMatters.