Doctors calling for gyms to stay open as lawmakers call for more shutdowns

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — The state is calling for more shutdowns but doctors are demanding indoor access to a critical service.

Just as the city is shutting down further, doctors in Chicago are calling on politicians to keep gyms open.

The Chicago Medical Society wrote a strongly worded letter saying their health is at stake if gyms are not allowed greater hours of operation.

An infectious disease spoke to WGN to give the scientific evidence which in his expertise shows exercise is critical in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So the risk is actually less in the gym than it is in your office space as far as air turnover or even in the supermarket,” Mel Kleist, executive director of East Bank Club, said.

At the East Bank Club, masks, distancing and cleaning are key. The members and employees are all masked at all times.

After a good run, they can lift their hands to the many sanitizer dispensers.

“Our members have become accustomed to what it takes to come to a safe environment to continue their mental, physical well-being,” Kleist said.

They are well behind a barrier in group classes. There is plexiglass barrier between the instructor and classroom. There is also a new piece of equipment that sprays down the gym equipment.

“It’s an electrostatic fogging machine. It attracts fluids in the air and electrolysizes them and drops them to the ground so it sanitizes the air and the equipment,” Kleist said.

The sprayer, used on aircraft as well has a virucide to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from lingering. But doctors say they know now, that is not the biggest threat.

“But now we know a lot more about this virus than we did six months ago. Touching is not a huge aspect of it even though we encourage washing your hands and using alcohol rents, but really it’s droplet and airborne,” Dr. Vishnu Chundi, infectious disease expert and chairman Chicago Medical Society COVID-19 Taskforce, said.

That’s why airflow is so critical. Infectious disease experts consulted with gyms like the East Bank club and the fit institute to advise on proper turnover.

“The gym actually increased their air turnover in each space to 20 turnover of air in an hour. Which far exceeds your supermarket or your office,” Chundi said.

And for those stuck at home, eating and drinking and not exercising, that is the real danger.

“Exercise clearly gets your endorphins moving number one. It also improves your immunity,” Chundi said.

And that means the ability to fight SARS-CoV-2. For frontline workers it has been a non-stop effort to protect patients.

“That’s one of the big problems with frontline workers, even within our own group of infectious disease doctors the rate of burn out has increased exponentially as this is progressed because we’ve essentially been on the job all the time. And it’s been hard on all of us,” Chundi said.

“So getting a set routine so you work out in the morning or when you come home and having that routine and having a way to get rid of that stress that you feel is important. As well as mind body, the mindfulness that you get from it,” Chundi said.

That’s why there has been a plea for more gym access. Doctors say it is a matter of life and death.

“I think it’s very important that we get into a routine, work out reduce our stress levels and cope with this because this is going to go on even with the vaccine probably through the end of next year,” Chundi said.

Why next year when we just heard a vaccine is close? Healthcare workers will get the vaccine first, then high risk patients and then the general public. With distribution and refrigeration logistics, the sobering news is that will take well into next year.

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