Last week I walked by a local neighbourhood gym and what I saw still disturbs me.  The doors and windows were closed (even though their official COVID strategy originally stated they would keep front and back doors open for air flow).  We couldn’t see what was going on inside because the windows were so thickly fogged up suggesting that they were not at all following the Public Health guidelines regarding low-intensity.

I’m neither a COVID-vigilante nor a pandemic alarmist but it seems ridiculous to me in the midst of a pandemic, not to take some basic safety precautions in the interest of the health of members and the community at large.  Why take unnecessary risks?  

Then Mufasa sent me a link to this great article in The Atlantic that every medical professional should read.  Paleoethnobotonists are hard at work all over the world in the employ of pharmaceutical companies studying the natural remedies utilized by undeveloped indiginous peoples.  The reason why is that so much traditional knowledge gets lost in the wonder of technological advancement.  As The Atlantic article says: “…things would have gone better in the pandemic if we still believed in miasma theory…Miasma theory—discredited, of course, by the rise of germ theory—held that disease came from “bad air” emanating from decomposing matter and filth.”

As so often happens, when miasma theory was justifiably replaced by germ theory so much was lost.

“The obsession with ventilation—and miasma theory in general—was indeed wrong when it came to pathogens such as cholera and yellow fever that we now know spread through other means (water and mosquitoes, respectively). But it did make sense for the diseases that invisibly stalked people through 19th-century air: measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza—all much diminished as threats in the 21st century. “We’ve gotten so good at preventing so many diseases, there’s been a loss of knowledge and a loss of experience,” Jeanne Kisacky, the author of Rise of the Modern Hospital, says. Science is not a simple linear march toward progress; it also forgets.”

The article goes on to describe how buildings – in particular medical buildings – from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s were built with ventilation in mind, a dramatic contrast to today’s energy-efficient sealed buildings. 

“‘Imagine, Tomes said to me, a sci-fi movie featuring a scary new virus. You would probably picture people protecting themselves with space suits and respirators. “Nobody ever goes to open a window,” she said. Who would have thought that the key to fighting this novel coronavirus would be as simple as fresh air? Only everyone 100 years ago.’”

100 years ago the first response to the Coronavirus threat would have been to open a window.  Every week I receive complaints from members about the chill of our open windows.  I stand in the gym for 8 hours at a stretch, I know exactly how cold it is.  The fact is, we’ve been blessed with a relatively mild winter with temperatures only rarely dropping below zero.  I bought myself a heated vest in preparation for a long cold winter but I have had to turn it on less than a dozen times so far.  The truth is, one adjusts quite readily to the outdoor temperatures.  Looking at the fogged up windows of other gyms I have no regret about our safety strategy.  Every day I read our CO2 monitor and am impressed by the quality of our airflow.  Late last year when the power went out and the ventilation systems failed throughout the building and our neighbours were forced outside due to the fumes overwhelming their units, we did not even notice.  The airflow is strong with Empower.

According to Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech:  “…droplets of a certain size could linger midair. And papers going back decades suggested that common respiratory ailments such as the flu were indeed airborne…“Finally there’ll be enough evidence showing that these diseases are really transmitted by breathing in virus from the air.”

In early March 2020 before the shut down, I received criticism from a member because I warned classes that while we were still open for business, they should be aware that there is a possibility that COVID-19 may be airborne.  This was not a hunch, I’d simply read some preliminary studies that suggested it might be the case even though it was at the time, being denied by the WHO, the CDC and public health authorities who probably did not wish to cause widespread panic.  I was told that I had no business scaring members that way.  My response was that I will always try to look out for members’ health and safety first and if there is a possibility the virus is airborne that members training in our facility should be aware of that possibility whether it has been proven yet or not. 

It only took about 8 months but “The WHO eventually acknowledged airborne transmission, as did the CDC, finally, in October.”  We of course did not wait for them to verify this before implementing our open window policy.

What frustrates me sometimes is how slow we are to implement simple strategies and how we often lean so heavily on technology that we forget the simple safety protocols used by generations before us who did not have access to vaccines and antibiotics and hazmat suits.  Technology isn’t a bad thing, we are very lucky for all the medical advances of the modern era but I wish we would use it to support rather than supplant effective strategies that had come before.

Of course the other common complaint we receive is about masks.  Memebsr often point out that the Public health authority does not require gym goers to wear masks just as open windows are not required.  Believe me, the mask wearing has lost us business.  Who enjoys working out wearing a mask?  Thing is, whether required or not, masks are an important tool in preventing airborne spread of the virus especially in indoor spaces where people might be breathing hard.  Think masks are overkill?  Read this article that Jet sent me regarding transmission events in gyms where masks were not consistently worn.  At Empower we do have at-risk members who have not yet received the vaccine.  I do not enjoy wearing a mask anymore than you do but for the moment it is in the best interest of our community.  Yes, I know our neighbours with fogged up windows are not making their members wear masks while training but at Empower we have never aimed to meet the standards of our neighbours, we have always aimed to far exceed them.

And yesterday we discovered an important lesson courtesy of our CO2 monitor.  3 coaches speaking together in an otherwise empty gym with all windows and doors open raised the CO2 monitor reading to 605ppm, much higher than it ever gets when we have 7 members working out at the same time in the gym.  In contrast HeroWOD Laura with a full gym barely broke 550ppm.  600ppm by the way is the CO2 levels above which viral transmissions begin to occur.  The takeaway is that speaking is much more dangerous than heavy breathing as you tend to exhale more forcefully and release more droplets.  This is why it is important that you remain 6 feet apart while in the gym – especially when you are “just chatting” with another member.  Talking doesn’t seem like  dangerous activity and socially we are wired to draw closer to the person we are speaking with but it is important to remember that this is actually a higher risk scenario. 

There has been a lot of confusing and mixed messaging throughout this pandemic.  Partly due to the fact that COVID-19 is a new virus and was not fully understood, partly because many issues have become politicized.  At Empower we have no interest in the politics, only in keeping our members safe and healthy.  Throughout we have tried to make the best decisions possible with the information available to us (let me once again thank our fantastic team of medical professionals who have been generous with their advice and guidance throughout!)

We already have a lot of vaccinated Empower members but for those who have not yet received the vaccine we do not have hazmat suits.  What we do have are windows that are kept wide open throughout the day and a CO2 monitor that does not go above 600ppm and masks being worn by coaches and athletes.  We are very fortunate to have our great big sliding window wall and double doors.  We can’t promise you immunity from COVID-19 but we can promise you a healthy helping of old fashioned good air!

Friday WOD
This is a big one!  If you do not think you can complete it under 40 minutes (I didn’t) you may consider splitting it with a partner with each of you splitting the movements and attacking it tag team style in order to speed through faster.

Equipment: medball or alternative

Warm Up
1 min Skipping
1 min Judo Push Up Rock
1 min Full Body Rock
1 min Cross Crawl Squats
1 min Skipping

WOD movement standards

HeroWOD Lorenzo
1000m Run
5 Rounds:
15 Push Ups
20 Med Ball Cleans
21 Burpees
Then, 1000m Run

Cool Down
Tricep Stretch
Quad Stretch
Downward Dog