The COVID-19 vaccine feels like the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, but while getting the vaccine yourself is the first step in regaining some sense of normalcy, it's going to be a while before we can go back to business as usual. People who have been vaccinated should still wear a mask, and scientists expect that large indoor gatherings will be one of the last things to return — and only once the vast majority of the population has been vaccinated.
What does that mean for your favorite workout classes? If you've steered clear of gyms and fitness studios since the pandemic began, here's what you should know before going back to your routine.
Is It Safe to Go Back to the Gym After You've Been Vaccinated?
First, it's important to know that gyms have been linked to outbreaks of COVID-19, and they're especially risky if they don't have strict mask requirements and social-distancing rules in place.
"People breathe in and out intensely at the gym and often have direct contact with other people or via equipment," Prabhjot Singh, MD, PhD, chief medical and scientific advisor of CV19 CheckUp, told POPSUGAR. This can pose a threat to both you and those around you, at least until a larger portion of the population is vaccinated.
"If you're vaccinated, the risk is lower for you, but you may still be a carrier even though you have no or mild symptoms," explained Amit Kumar, PhD, a researcher, a scientist, and CEO of Anixa Biosciences, a company that's working to develop therapies and vaccines focused on critical unmet needs in infectious disease. According to the CDC, "early data show that the vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated." Until scientists confirm this, vaccinated people will need to take caution around people who haven't gotten their shots yet.
That said, although vaccination dramatically reduces the chances that you'll get sick, there's still a small risk that you could become infected, too. If nearly everyone at the gym is vaccinated, the incidence of disease will be extremely low. "[But] considering most of the population has not been vaccinated yet, chances are good that even if you're vaccinated, most of the people around you aren't," Dr. Kumar told POPSUGAR. He recommends avoiding "congregate situations" for now.
Experts believe that at least 70 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. The closer we get to that target, the safer these settings will be.
What Steps Should You Take When Returning to the Gym?
If you do decide to go back to the gym, Dr. Singh recommends waiting until you're fully vaccinated. This means receiving both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, and waiting at least two weeks after your final shot to allow the vaccine to become fully effective. "You've waited this long to get vaccinated, so you should wait a few weeks after to ensure that your immune system gets the full benefit of it," Dr. Singh said.
Even then, he recommends carefully reviewing your gym's policies regarding mask wearing, social distancing, and ventilation before deciding whether it's OK to return. If you go to the gym and find that others aren't following the guidelines, consider leaving and coming back when it feels safer.
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.