A person exercises on a gym treadmill while wearing a mask

Student Consulting Group Assesses Gyms and COVID-19

The Oregon Consulting Group (OCG), a University of Oregon student-run consulting group with faculty oversight in the Lundquist College of Business, took a closer look at the available data to preliminarily assess whether gyms are high-risk environments for COVID-19 transmission.

Like most activities, working out in a gym has been the subject of safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea of individuals breathing heavily and touching shared equipment compelled lawmakers early on to place restrictions on gyms, as well bars and restaurants. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), a trade association serving the global health club and fitness industry, retained the Oregon Consulting Group to examine data and interpret the relationship between gym attendance and positive COVID-19 cases. Specifically, students were asked by IHRSA to analyze data in the state of Colorado.

A cursory glance at Colorado’s COVID-19 case data showed that there were 59 different outbreaks reported from March 6, 2020 to November 18, 2020 which accounted for more than 9,700 positive COVID-19 cases. None of the reported outbreak settings were associated with traditional gyms or health clubs.

The analysis looked at 32-week period from early March to mid-October, which totaled 8.5 million gym check-ins. The bulk of the study was done using proprietary check-in data from fitness companies, including ABC Fitness Solutions, Mindbody, and 24-Hour Fitness—all of which are IHRSA members.

When comparing this data to COVID-19 incidence in Colorado, the Oregon Consulting Group found no statistically significant correlation between weekly gym attendance and weekly incidence of COVID-19. This evidence, in conjunction with observational findings, would suggest that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in gyms may be lower than that of restaurants or bars.

The study did not conclude that gyms are safe. No setting outside of our own homes is safe. The student consultants also recommended further analysis to determine if data from Colorado can be considered representative of other states, as well as to determine how safety procedures, mask wearing, robust HVAC systems, capacity limitations, or some combination may limit the spread of COVID-19 in gyms. Such additional studies could help the fitness industry develop and publish agreed upon standards that maximize gym safety.

The Oregon Consulting Group is a student-run management consulting firm housed in the Lundquist College of Business. The group offers consulting services that create exceptional value for clients while giving students the opportunity to develop professionally.