Health Unit tweaks new rules for fitness and sport to prevent 'super spreader' event

Health authorities announced changes to new rules meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the city's sport and fitness community Friday with an emphasis on preventing a potential super spreader event similar to the one in Hamilton earlier this month.

London's top doc says new rules aim to prevent 'super spreader event' before it happens

A personal trainer works with a client, as seen through the window of a downtown London fitness studio. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

London's top doctor unveiled a list of modifications to new rules meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the city's sport and fitness community that are set to take effect this weekend. 

The changes affect a sweeping new set of guidelines issued by the London-Middlesex Health Unit earlier this week, that imposed strict changes to the way health and fitness centres, such as gyms, spin and yoga studios and other fitness studios operate. 

The modifications presented by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie Friday represent a slight loosening of the rules in some cases, but he emphasized that the intent remains the same – to prevent the kind of super spreader event at a downtown Hamilton fitness studio earlier this month from happening in London. 

"Spinco was following all the rules," Mackie said. "From a public healthcare perspective, this is a public health disaster. The main goal of our order around fitness facilities is to try to avoid this situation."

Rules meant to prevent 'super spreader' event

A slide containing a chart on how the incident at a Hamilton spin class affected hundreds of people and dozens of organizations. (MLHU)

The incident at SpinCo in Hamilton infected a total of 80 people, even though all of the people participating in the high intensity workout were spaced two metres apart. 

Mackie told the virtual town hall Friday that a total of 48 people were initially infected directly by participating in the class, including 46 patrons and two staff, who then spread the illness other settings, resulting in 26 secondary cases, affecting 15 homes, eight schools, six healthcare facilities and 22 workplaces, resulting in hundreds of people being tested for the virus. 

"We're not willing to wait until we have cases here before taking reasonable actions to prevent them. The fact that these things are dangerous somewhere else means they're dangerous here and we need to put limitations in place to prevent that risk."

New rules

The new, modified set of rules presented in the virtual town hall Friday affect all gyms, health clubs, community centres, arenas, exercise, dance and yoga studios in the London region and include: 

  • Number of people permitted in a class now cannot exceed 12. An additional three staff, referees or instructors are now permitted. 
  • Each activity needs a separate room, or if in a large space, such as an indoor soccer field or high school gymnasium, must be separate by a barrier or a minimum of three metres. 
  • For team sports, with substitutions, a maximum of 12 are permitted on the roster. A two metre distance must be maintained between individuals who aren't playing. 
  • Participants not wearing helmets should wear a face covering when not actively participating in a rigorous physical activity. 
  • Number of people on a playing surface, such as an indoor ice pad or soccer field capped at 25.  

Mackie said it's important for people who play team sports to physical distance when they aren't on the playing surface, to ensure a reduced risk of transmission of the virus. 

"That's where you see those very large outbreaks," he said. "People sitting on a bench breathing heavily contributes significantly."

"We are not going to allow the kind of super spreader conditions that allowed the situation at SpinCo."

Mackie said the reason health officials are focusing so much on sport, and not places such as malls or large retail outlets where larger numbers of people are permitted, is because of the heavy breathing and increased cardiovascular activity associated with sport increases the risk of transmission. 

"In all those settings people are wearing masks," he told the virtual forum. "Second of all, they're not involved in intense activity. You don't get people doing heavy breathing. Heavy breathing Contributes spectacular to the spread of COVID."

The new rules take effect Saturday at midnight and will affect all sports and fitness activities scheduled in the London region this weekend. 


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