EDITOR’S NOTE 7/27/2020: This early and limited study is no reason to alter operational procedures at any climbing facility – chalk has not been “proven” to affect Covid-19. This is interesting and potentially very impactful news for our industry, and we are covering it as such. The findings from this first research project still need to be formally released and peer reviewed. We can all hope these conclusions are confirmed with further rigorous research.
A recent study led by a team of doctors at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, found that the chalk used in the study significantly reduced the amount of a model coronavirus on a plastic surface by around 99%. The results suggest that chalk used in climbing and other sports may lower the risk of infection and spreading COVID-19 via plastic surfaces (such as climbing holds), according to the group behind the research. This study is early confirmation of what Don Campbell first hypothesized and tested this spring in his gym Gemstone Climbing in Twin Falls, Idaho.
The study was prompted when founders of The Lakeland Climbing Centre and The Warehouse Climbing and Caving Centre in the United Kingdom reached out to the chair of the Association of British Climbing Walls to get the concept of a comprehensive study going at an academic level. Other gyms were looped in, and eventually a research team at De Montfort University was commissioned. The leaders of the study were Dr. Katie Laird, the Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at the school, Dr. Maitreyi Shivkumar, a virologist, and Dr. Lucy Owen, a postdoctoral researcher.
A model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used in the experimentation, which entailed analyzing the presence of that virus for one hour on plastic that was dusted with chalk—and comparing results against a control group of plastic without chalk. “The results indicated that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99 percent immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces,” noted an Association of British Climbing Walls press release which first announced the results of the study. “By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over the time periods.”
The Chair of the Association of British Climbing Walls, Rich Emerson, stated of the study, “We hope that it will provide comfort to our customers as they return to climbing at indoor walls. We will not lessen all our other COVID-safe measures such as regular hand sanitization and social distancing, but this extra factor should temper fears that chalky handholds could be vectors of the disease. We await the formal scientific report with anticipation.”
The aforementioned press release noted that the full scientific report will be published next month. The study comes as many gyms around the world have reopened (or, in some cases, are opening for the first time) with various COVID-related safety protocols, including social distancing and required masks.
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