COVID-19 in B.C.: Low-intensity group physical activity to resume indoors under revised guidelines

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      After almost a month of indoor exercise classes put on hold, updated provincial health guidelines will allow some fitness classes and activities to restart.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had stated at previous COVID-19 briefings that all high-intensity indoor physical activity (including spin classes, hot yoga, and high-intensity interval training) will remain suspended for the autumn and winter seasons as of November 19. She subsequently required all low-intensity indoor physical to temporarily stop on November 24 while guidelines were being updated.

      The B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the provincial Health Ministry have issued new guidelines, based on evidence as of December 14 and updated on December 15, that permits low-intensity physical activity—defined as “any exercise that does not result in significantly increased respiration rates”—to resume indoors in groups at fitness centres, studios, recreation centres, and gyms with an updated COVID-19 safety plan.

      Examples of activities that can begin again include lower-intensity barre classes, low-intensity exercise machines and cardio equipment, light weightlifting, lower-intensity pilates, stretching, tai chi, and hatha yoga.

      Martial arts, gymnastics, and cheerleading aren’t included in these revised guidelines and must refer to public health and ViaSport guidelines for these activities (in addition to public skating rinks and swimming pools).

      Safety plan measures have to include collecting contact information for public health; ventilation measures, such as doors or windows left open and no use of fans; floor markings and signage to direct movement through spaces; cleaning and disinfection; physical barriers; occupancy limits; physical distancing between participants; audio volume limits for music and vocal instruction; public water fountains must be shut off and participants must bring their own water bottles; and more.

      Indoor high-intensity physical activity in groups remains suspended.

      That includes aerobics, high-intensity or cardio-based barre classes, bootcamp, bodybuilding and heavy weightlifting, circuit training, CrossFit, dance classes,  dance-based fitness (such as Zumba), high-intensity exercise machines and cardio equipment, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), kickboxing (including tai bo and others), spin classes, and power yoga.

      In addition, the “creation of intentionally overheated exercise environments” remains prohibited. Accordingly, hot yoga cannot resume at this point.

      However, some yoga studios which usually offer hot yoga are planning for reopening in-person classes (such as Hot Yoga 101 on December 19 and Yyoga on January 3) but only with low-intensity yoga classes and without any heated component.

      The updated guidelines are available at the B.C. government website.

      Although Henry said that her expanded health orders have helped to level off COVID-19 case numbers, particularly among transmission at gatherings, she said that numbers have not yet decreased. COVID-19-related fatalities have remained high this past week (including the highest number of deaths over a three-day weekend period) and B.C. announced stricter enforcement measures, including increased inspections, will be implemented.

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