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. –– A Virginia gym owner thought she was having a nightmare when she learned that 50 athletes were potentially exposed to covid-19 particles from one of the coaches. However, not a single member ended up contracting the virus. Thanks to the extra safety precautions and ventilation measures she implemented.
Velvet Minnick, 44, is the owner and head trainer of 460 Fitness in Blacksburg, Virginia. Like many gym owners across the country, she was forced to close the facility in March due to COVID-19. They rented equipment and taught through Zoom, but it wasn’t long before the members were sold out.
When the state began the second phase of reopening in June, Minnick was allowed to return athletes to its facilities. However, she knew of a person who could help her regain her limbs, while keeping them safe.
Linsey Marr, 46, is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and joined 460 Fitness about two years ago. He has experience in airborne virus transmission, air quality, and nanotechnology.
By the time gyms closed in March due to COVID-19, there was a lot of talk within the CrossFit community about the mental health benefits of exercise. Some owners even pushed for their gyms to stay open. While that didn’t work, it did include them in the early stages of the reopening. And put in place the gym plan to reopen and security procedures in place.
Minnick asked Marr about ventilation. Also about strict hygiene and distancing protocols to keep athletes as safe as possible while exercising.
“I knew that the virus was transmitted mainly through the air. So I thought it was really important to have good ventilation so that not everyone could breathe the same air, ”Marr explained to CNN.
Minnick created stations for athletes near the gates to the bay, each 10 feet apart. The stations are marked on the floor with orange tape and have all the necessary equipment located inside. There is no need to move around the gym or do partner workouts while sharing the equipment.
“Three meters of space has always been my mantra,” said Marr. That distance is more than the recommended 2 meters because people in the gym are exercising and breathing hard.
Since Minnick built the facility, he had the engineering and ventilation documents to share with Marr.
“I did the calculations on how big the space was, what were the typical wind speeds in the area, and if the doors were open, what would the resulting ventilation be?” Marr explained.
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He found that the space provided much more fresh air than required by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. It is a professional organization that provides ventilation recommendations. Reviewing other research and studies, Marr spoke with experts about what rate of ventilation is necessary to truly reduce the risk of indoor transmission.
“We don’t see outbreaks above a certain threshold,” Marr said. “And the gym with the doors open was way above that.”
Marr noted that they can now close the doors a bit more than they initially thought and still meet that ventilation standard. They do this by using a carbon dioxide monitor to track levels inside.
“Carbon dioxide is exhaled and is a good indicator of how much virus may be accumulating in the air,” Marr said.
Depending on the weather and the comfort level of the athletes in the gym, they can open the doors a little more or a little less. And athletes always have the option of moving their equipment abroad.
In September, when Minnick found out that one of his coaches was not feeling well, he was initially unconcerned. Although he thought it was just allergies, the coach soon lost his sense of smell and taste, Minnick said. For this reason, the coronavirus test was done. She asked him to self-quarantine until she received the results.
When he tested positive, they first determined that he contracted COVID-19 outside of the gym in another setting where he was indoors. Then Minnick ran a test on the system to find out who he had trained before he was ill.
Minnick personally contacted all 50 athletes and followed them over a two-week period. Some people decided to get tested, but no member developed symptoms.
“I contacted all of my members on a Monday,” Minnick said. And then the … with the contact tracing officers from the health department. I was not even notified of the direct exposure until Wednesday. With something like this, it’s very important to know right away.
Even after possible exposure and with temperatures dropping as winter approaches, the gym is still diligent with its procedures. Additionally, athletes continue to adapt.
There are no sweaty hugs after training or hands bumping. Often times the class has a conversation about whether the doors remain open or closed. If they want them closed to keep warm, all users should wear a mask.
“Members are willing to go the extra mile, to be cold, to be wet, to hang on, just to be safe,” Minnick said. “They will do whatever it takes to reap the benefits of exercise.”