Gym rats and hospital data

No, this is not a post about how gym goers end up in the hospital. These are just the two main topics I’m covering today. Also, before the pandemic, I considered myself a “gym rat”. I hope you don’t view this as an offensive term. If you do, my apologies!

For the gym rats

On Monday, my stationary bike went on the fritz, and I was in despair. Fortunately, I was able to fix it the same day, but thinking back, I realize that gyms, and exercise in general, is an important component of mental health. There’s no doubt that the pandemic is putting a strain on not just regular people, but the owners of gyms and managers of parks and beaches.

Yesterday, I gave a short answer about gyms to a redditor, and while it was factual, it was incomplete. So I decided to research this subject a bit and pass on what I found. I was aided a lot by an article just published in Kaiser Health News, entitled “Making Gyms Safer: Why the Virus is Less Likely to Spread There Than in a Bar.”

If you just read the headline, you’re likely to come away with the impression that all gyms are OK, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t open up immediately. But the article actually is all about the difficult task gym owners face in making their facilities safe.

The first obstacle is, of course, the nature of a hard workout itself. Months ago, many epidemiologists thought the virus was not spread through aerosols, so the concentration was on cleaning surfaces and keeping away from large droplets emitted by covid-positive people. Now we realize how dangerous aerosols are, and in fact there’s much more evidence of transmission from that than there is from surface contamination. In it’s raw form, a hard workout can be the worst of both risks – virus-laden sweat left on equipment, along with plenty of aerosols generated by heavy breathing.

As the article points out, there are some gyms that have gone the extra mile to assure safety, limiting the number of people using a facility, extra equipment cleaning, and limited hours.

Also, as any gym rat can tell you, people in the gym aren’t there to socialize and be close to each other (although I used to belong to a gym that seemed to be primarily a pickup place for bored suburbanites looking for a hookup). People who go to the gym regularly are generally healthier than the general public as well.

And compared to indoor religious services, gyms are far safer. There are many, many more outbreaks tied to indoor religious services, parties, and bars than there are to gyms.

The trouble is, gym owners who opt for safety are undermined in a couple of ways by those who don’t: a) they spend money on filtration systems, extra cleaning, and customer restrictions; and b) their competitors who cut corners give all gyms a bad reputation.

The big question for any gym owner going forward is economic feasibility. Gyms can’t move all their equipment outside. It will be difficult to make a profit if they cut their customer base in half. Almost 60% of members aren’t planning to renew their memberships. Many of them have been forced by the pandemic to find alternate, and cheaper, means of keeping in shape, and the intend to stick with them.

There are published protocols for gym owners, and gym users would be well advised to take a look at these. The CDC also has a worksheet on covid precautions for gyms. Even more important, customers should reward gyms that do follow the protocols by using them instead of competitors who don’t. If a gym is going out of its way to keep people safe, then spread the word, the same way you would if a restaurant was safe.

Mask wearing is a big problem. Many gyms require them at all times, and a mask that restricts your breathing too much will make your workout fairly hellish. USA today had a recent story on gyms, and their number one pick was the Athleta face mask (I have absolutely no connection with them). They also recommended the Under Armour mask.

As for when gyms will be open and under what conditions, please consult your county public health department web site for that info. That’s something that’s not up to me, and I can’t make a prediction about changes in policy.

Election Day is in 53 Days

Your vote counts, no matter where you live. Check your registration, make sure your family and friends do that, and motivate others to save our democracy. And don’t wait until the last minute to drop your ballot in the mail!

Have you completed your census form? If not, please DO IT!

Updated numbers available, even if not in this post

Interactive pages on

Today’s charts – hospitalization data

The charts for today concentrate on hospital data from LA, OC and SD. They’re from and my own data, derived from CA DHHS databases. Together, these should give you a good idea of the hospital situation in all three counties.

The footer for all charts contains the following text:

Last updated 9/10/2020. Resolve to Save Lives, a pandemic think tank, recommends that hospitals maintain enough ICU capacity to double the number of COVID patients hospitalized. Learn more about our methodology and our data sources.

CovidActNow ICU Headroom Charts

Charts derived from CA DHHS database

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