Some B.C. fitness centres and their clients are calling on the government to deem gyms and fitness centres as essential services after being forced to once again close their doors because of pandemic-related measures.
Indoor adult exercise, fitness and dance centres were ordered to close as of Dec. 23 until at least Jan. 18, under new measures announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Dec. 21 to try and stay ahead of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Businesses that defy public health orders can be fined or forced to close.
In Cranbrook, Fitness Inc. decided to keep their doors open despite the mandated closure after they say that several of their members pointed to mental health struggles. The fitness centre received a fine from police for staying open on Dec. 24, and have since closed their doors.
“A high percentage of our members come here for mental health reasons,” Fitness Inc. owner Trevor Zak told the Townsman. “One of our members put it this way: it’s the biggest rehab centre for mental health.”
Darren Henning, one of Fitness Inc.’s members and Strongman participants, has organized a Go Fund Me to help pay the fines imposed on Fitness Inc. As of Dec. 30, $3,735 had been raised.
“Trevor and Fitness Inc. are a vital part of the Cranbrook fitness community. Trevor made the decision to remain open despite the mandates from the government because he knows how important the gym is to the lives of the members. This decision came at a heavy cost,” Henning wrote.
There is also a petition circulating around the province that calls for small, independent gyms in B.C. to be allowed to open. There are more than 43,000 virtual signatures.
Fitness Inc. itself has had no known exposures or cases, Zak says. He adds that they have followed all health orders and that they are vigilant about cleaning. Prior to the latest mandate, proof of vaccination was required to enter the gym.
This isn’t the only instance of a gym defying the public health mandate. On Christmas Eve it was reported that several gyms in Kamloops decided to remain open, as well. One such gym is considering a class-action lawsuit.
Samantha Agtarap, who started the province-wide petition, is calling for a reconsideration of the public health order.
“Physical exercise in times of stress is an important outlet for many people, and not all gyms are the same,” writes Agtarap. “There are many small, independently owned and operated gyms that have significantly modified operations to keep their clients as safe as possible and have not experienced any cases of transmission or significant outbreaks over the past two years. Our clients have worked with us to keep our gyms safe and open - they stay home if they don’t feel well, the abide by the rules and help keep the gym clean…”
In an update posted Dec. 26, she adds that while physical activity is important for mental and physical health, “our argument hinges primarily on the lack of data shared with the public on where transmission is occurring. If this is because the government has no data then the fitness sector should not be targeted alone.”
Zak shared a similar sentiment. He pointed to the Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC), stating that there are “very little” statistics to show gyms being a major cause of the spread of COVID-19.
FIC is a not-for-profit trade association that represents fitness facility operators across Canada.
“FIC did a survey a few months ago. They looked at 2.7 million visits to member gyms and 0.00008 per cent of those visits had an exposure,” Zak said.
He adds that he would have been willing to reduce capacity or take other measures to be able to stay open, but they “never got the chance”.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, of the BC Liberals, has been vocal online about his support for modified re-opening of fitness centres.
On Facebook, Shypitka said that facilities like Fitness Inc. can “operate safely” with potential modifications.
“Without even giving these operators the chance to participate puts many others at risk that depend on physical and mental health,” he wrote. “I will continue bringing these issues up to our provincial health officer for better clarification and pushing for more hybrid solutions. Mental and physical health is very important, especially in the times we are now. There is also a petition circulating that I will present to the legislature.”
Shortly after announcing the Omicron-related restrictions, the province also announced one-time grants of up to $10,000 for businesses that were forced to close in order to pay for lost wages faced by employees. Those funds will be available in January.
Zak says he hasn’t had to lay off any staff, and he’s given his staff the option to continue working if they wish to do so. While the facility is closed they’ll be working on maintenance and deep cleaning tasks. He said he will be applying for the government grant “as soon as he can”. He thanked his staff for their support, as well as the community.
“I have the best staff, they are the front of the business and they make the business what it is,” Zak said. “Our members are amazing and the outpouring of support has just been great. I’ve had so many calls and messages from members who say how the gym is like church to them. This is their rehab. This is their out. They’re here every day. We really just appreciate the continued support from our community and members.”
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