By: Kate Luce
As the pandemic heads in a positive direction, IU South Bend is still playing it safe with mask policies and social distancing. The Student Activity Center is no different. As part of the university, the building has implemented rules to provide students, staff and faculty a safe place to exercise.
Temperature checks, increased sanitation and handwashing efforts, limiting capacity and some equipment being unavailable for students are all measures the SAC is taking to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Following those kinds of guidelines would make things safer. Of course, that is not just gyms, but with any activity. If you could make sure it takes place outside rather than inside, but if you are inside, it needs to be well-ventilated, clean, spaced, masked. All of those things make things safer,” Dr. Aaron Carroll, vice chair for Health Policy and Outcomes Research and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, said.
However, according to the SAC’s website, it states, “Masks must be worn at all times, except when engaging in cardio/strenuous activities and you must be 6-12 feet apart from anyone else.”
“Masks must be worn properly at all times. Health and safety are our number one priority. If a patron’s health and safety might be jeopardized by wearing a mask while he/she is involved in some type of intense/strenuous cardio activity due to the inability to breathe properly, and they noted this to our staff, this would be the one exception. I should note that this has not been an issue and our patrons have been very responsible with their mask-wearing,” Steve Bruce, executive director of athletics and activities, said.
IU Bloomington’s Student Recreational Sports Center has increased sanitation efforts and provided ways to socially distance, but there are no policies on wearing masks inside the gym on their website. According to Bruce, IU South Bend is following most of Bloomington’s policies.
“Our policies foundationally reflect those of IU Bloomington’s. There may be some slight differences. It is my understanding that the other regional campuses do not have their fitness facilities open to patrons,” Bruce said.
These policies are in place because of IU’s unique environment. With community living and in-person classes, gyms and activity centers are not just a gym but rather a part of life on campus. Dr. Carroll says having all of these rules provide for better and safer outcomes for students, staff and faculty.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 has been shown to spread in gyms, fitness centers and studios. The CDC states that without safety precautions in mind, respiratory droplets with the virus can spread, according to a statement in December 2020.
The CDC, in this statement, recommends that gym-goers should choose a facility that requires a mask and has adequate ventilation, to frequently wash their hands, wipe down equipment, go when it is not busy and limit time at the gym as much as possible.
“If people are spaced apart and masked, [gyms] could be very safe. If it is crowded, people are on top of each other and they are all working out on the same machines, that would be unsafe. You can set up a gym to be safe, but it is hard to say that gyms are unsafe or safe,” Dr. Carroll said.
IU-wide, Dr. Carroll has not seen any outbreaks due to gyms or activity centers, as this is something IU is closely monitoring. Many regional campuses have closed their gyms and student activity centers.
Credible sources have both reported that it is both safe and unsafe to wear a mask while exercising. The WHO reported that those that are exercising should not wear a mask. Sweat can make the mask moist, which can lead to bacteria growth and make it difficult to breathe.
However, the Mayo Clinic reported the opposite. It is safe wearing a mask when exercising. Their report stated, “New research has shown that your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen level and time of exhaustion are not significantly affected by wearing a mask during moderate to strenuous aerobic physical activity.”
Mayo Clinic advised against using disposable masks because once they become wet, they can break down, rendering them useless. The Clinic suggests using a cloth mask that has at least two layers.
“I think masks, in general, are safer than no masks. Masks are rarely unsafe. The idea is that they don’t cause harm. You’ll get some dispute on whether masks are necessary if other precautions are met. Look, if you are in a gym and it’s 1,000 square feet, and there are three people there, and you are in the corner, the mask is providing limited benefit if it’s well ventilated. The problem is masks are such a cheap and easy thing to do that seems to make a big difference, even with a reduction in spacing, that it seems worthwhile to recommend,” Dr. Carroll said.
Carroll said the best course of action for students would be to just wear a tight cotton mask when working out, to help provide an added layer of protection without compromising comfort.
As of now, students, staff and faculty can view the SAC’s policy here: https://iusbtitans.com/sports/2020/6/23/496_132373945302862822.aspx?id=12