Science

Gyms are still hot spots for spreading COVID-19

We aren’t out of the woods yet. (CDC/)

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Another week has passed by and the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being officially declared a pandemic is creeping closer. And while case counts are going down across the world, the longer the pandemic lasts, the more chances the virus has to mutate, which could influence how well we can control the virus. Here’s what to know today about the battle against COVID-19.

A new COVID-19 variant has popped up in New York City

COVID-19 first hit New York City hard in the spring of 2020. And while things may seem more under control than months prior, the worrying issue of tougher, more resilient variants still lingers. In particular, one new variant that now accounts for over one in four sequenced cases of COVID-19, is now spreading rapidly throughout the city according to two new research studies.

The new variant, named B.1.526, contains mutations such as the E484K mutation seen in the Brazil and South Africa variants. Further, some contain S477N which could have an impact on how well the virus binds to human cells. On average, the patients with the B.1.526 strain were six years older and many were located in communities nearby hospitals, according to The New York Times. And while some experts say that people who have recovered or been vaccinated will likely be able to fight this variant off, it is definitely still something to watch.

“It’s not particularly happy news,” Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University, told the New York Times. “But just knowing about it is good because then we can perhaps do something about it.”

Life in our COVID-19 bubbles could change how we react to other viruses

When you work from home, socialize from home, get groceries delivered to your home, and hardly travel, the range of germs you come in contact with shrinks. And when it comes to avoiding COVID-19, that’s what needs to be done, but our immune systems are getting less and less used to those everyday germs that could give us run-of-the-mill colds and sniffles.

One recent study showed that upper respiratory infections rose dramatically right after schools and daycares reopened in Hong Kong, despite strict COVID precautions, like masks, regular cleanings, and so forth being put in place. After a deeper look, the researchers learned that it wasn’t COVID-19 or the flu that was the culprit for the burst of runny noses, but instead rhinoviruses and enteroviruses which are more likely to cause a case of the common cold.

What this more or less means is that while cooped up at home, our susceptibility to rhinoviruses and other respiratory illnesses may have increased thanks to social distancing and other measures. When confronted with these same germs when school started back up, transmission powered up as well. So when we return to school and regular life, we might not be as prepared (not to mention, masks and disinfection techniques aren’t as protective against viruses that aren’t coronaviruses or influenza).

“Our findings highlight the increased risk posed by common cold viruses in locations where schools have been closed or dismissed for extended periods during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors of the study write.

[Related: Read about how Northern California’s COVID-19 variant stacks up against the rest]

Going to the gym can still be a risky activity

The biggest no-no when it comes to COVID-19 spread is being in a crowded room with other people breathing heavily on each other. And if you are a gym-frequenter, you’ll know there’s a lot of heavy breathing done during a workout, whether you’re alone, in a group, doing weights, or using cardio equipment. And it’s no secret that gyms can be a hotbed for spreading illness.

Still, gym-related COVID-19 outbreaks are still being discovered—one gym in Chicago operating at 25 percent capacity over the summer sickened 55 people. Most of the gym attendees did not keep masks on leading up to this outbreak, and three people who attended had just tested positive for the virus before working out. One trainer in Honolulu initiated a cluster of 21 positive cases by teaching classes at three separate gyms, while still trying to wear masks and socially distance.

The moral of the story is to keep your exercise to your living room or outdoors for the time being. “If you can wait until the spring and work out outside, it will be a lot safer,” Joshua Epstein, an epidemiology professor at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, told The Washington Post. “We are not out of the woods by any means. It’s not the time to relax.”

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