[Editor's Note: As more closures happen, Club Industry will update this story.]
Governors and health officials in some states have closed health clubs in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases in their states, but in other states, measures to curb the spread did not include gym closures but often included additional restrictions.
Mark Miller, COO of Merritt Clubs in Maryland, has been active in trying to keep gyms open in his state of Maryland, where health clubs are still open as of Nov. 19 (although the governor recently implemented a 50 percent capacity restriction on gyms, starting Nov. 20), but that doesn’t mean clubs there are safe from another lockdown, he told Club Industry.
“We fear a lock down and worry that it could be the nail in the coffin for several clubs,” he said. “We need to continue to push our county and state leaders to understand that we are not only dealing with the virus, but the physical and mental stress that lockdowns create, the sedentary nature of life that permeates all, adds to the unhealthy acceleration of various diseases that are part of the cause for what this virus does—obesity, diabetes, etc. The mental stress has shown an increase in suicide, mental health issues, drug use.”
In anticipation of possible shutdowns in his Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania where his clubs operate, Chris Craytor, president and COO of ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers, told Club Industry: “Many of our employees are going to suffer major financial hardships as a result of a future shutdown. Many of them were able to survive the first shutdown, in large measure, because of the extra federal unemployment funds. With these no longer offered, and clubs in a precarious financial position, there is little help club employees can expect to receive if furloughed or terminated due to a new shutdown. This includes a potential loss of medical coverage in the middle of a health pandemic. Further, I think many great people will simply leave our industry for new fields as the prospects for a recovery are dimmed.”
Both Miller and Craytor were part of a panel, "The Fitness Industry Needs a Political Movement - Impacting U.S. Legislation and Regulations," which was part of Club Industry's Future of Fitness virtual event. That panel, which also included Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public affairs at IHRSA, and Jennifer LaTourette, vice president at lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates. It can be viewed on-demand here for free.
IHRSA has worked with federal legislators to get a new relief act specific to health clubs. As Club Industry reported in October, U.S. Reps. Michael Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) filed the Health & Fitness Recovery Act of 2020 on Oct. 1.
The act (H.R. 8485) establishes a $30 billion recovery fund to help gyms and fitness clubs devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry has lost $13.9 billion in revenue from March through Sept. 1, 2020, according to IHRSA.
If passed, the bill would allow the $30 billion to be given in the form of grants that are capped at an actual business loss up to 10 percent of the business’s previous year’s revenue or $10 million—whichever is less.
IHRSA has coordinated a campaign to get operators in the fitness industry to contact their members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill and include it in any future COVID-19 relief bill.
States Not Including Gyms in Shutdowns
At least five states enacting new restrictions have allowed health clubs to remain open.
On Nov. 13, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott imposed several temporary new restrictions that took effect on Nov. 14, but those restrictions did not impact health clubs. Instead, it banned indoor and outdoor public and private social gatherings to be limited to participation with only members of a single household. Bars and social clubs are closed and restaurants must close by 10 p.m.
In a press conference announcing the new restrictions, the governor addressed questions about why he was banning social gatherings but keeping gyms and restaurants open.
“I understand it may seem counter-intuitive that restaurants remain open and yet you can’t have neighbors over for dinner,” he said. “But the fact is, from October 1 to the time of Friday’s announcement, 71 percent of outbreaks were linked to social events, parties and people hanging out at a home or at bars and clubs. We’re just not seeing these types of outbreaks linked back to people dining at restaurants or working out at gyms. This tells us the protocols at these businesses are, for the most part, working.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker moved all of Illinois into Tier 3, which put new restrictions on health clubs but did not close them. The new restrictions, which start on Nov. 20, require gyms to operate at no more than 25 percent capacity, require reservations, shut down group exercise classes and locker rooms, and requires members and staff to wear face masks at all times.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has implemented new restrictions for businesses that are now in severe risk counties, but he did not shutdown gyms. Instead, he limited gyms, which had been operating at 25 percent capacity down to 10 percent capacity.
Members of the Colorado Fitness Coalition met with the governor’s COVID-19 response team after the announcement was made to see how to increase the capacity limit and how to get economic relief for gym operators in the state.
Cory Brightwell, CEO of Chuze Fitness and a member of the Colorado Fitness Coalition, told the Denver Post: “They have allowed us to stay open. Even though it’s at 10%, which is not really a survivable number for us, we appreciate that they’re at least listening and following the data and the science behind the fact that there has been little to zero spread of this virus inside of health club facilities. We’re disappointed at the 10%, but we also understand that Colorado is at an inflection point of really needing to slow the virus and slow the spread.”
On Nov. 15, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a new emergency order that enacts a three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities, but the order does not close gyms completely, just group exercise activities. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with safety measures in place that include operating at 25 percent capacity and having at least 12 feet of distance between workout stations.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo curbed gym hours in his state, requiring them to close at 10 p.m. and not reopen until 5 a.m., but he did not close health clubs completely even though he said that gyms were one of three sources of the spread. Club Industry reached out the to governor’s office to ask for statistics on how many COVID-19 cases were traced back to gyms, but the office has not yet responded.
IHRSA sent a letter to Cuomo on Nov. 9 stating that health clubs “are part of the solution, not the problem, and therefore, must remain open.”
The letter continued: “While much still remains unknown about COVID-19, the assumption that health and fitness clubs are either a primary driver of new infections or an inherently high-risk environment for new infections does not stand up to the data.”
IHRSA then shared details of several studies that support that statement.
States Including Gyms in Shutdown
Despite some states keeping health clubs open, the story is different in Minnesota, New Mexico, California, Washington and Oregon.
On Nov. 18, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that health clubs are among the businesses being ordered to close for four weeks. Beginning Nov. 20 and lasting until Dec. 18, gyms must close in the state along with entertainment venues, event spaces.
Upon anticipation of this announcement, Life Time CEO Bahram Akradi held a press conference in which he said the then-anticipated shutdown of health clubs was unfair.
“The state of Minnesota, according to their own numbers, has 237,000 cases, according to the state," said Akradi. "Forty-eight cases from the clubs has resulted in 750. That is 0.003 percent, which suggests that the clubs are not spreading the virus.”
Akradi plans to spend the next few days trying to work out alternatives with the state.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials on Nov. 13 re-enacted a statewide order closing gyms as well as some other businesses that offer in-person services. The restrictions were effective starting Nov. 16 and will last until Nov. 30.
New Mexicans are instructed to stay at home except for trips that are essential to health, safety and welfare, such as for food and water, emergency medical care, to obtain a flu shot or to obtain a test for COVID-19.
Businesses face a civil administrative penalty of up to $5,000 a day for each violation of the Public Health Emergency Response Act, the state law authorizing the secretary of health to issue emergency public health orders.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials are “pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy resulting in 94.1 percent of California’s population in the most restrictive tier,” according to a media release from the governor’s office.
Twenty-eight counties were moved back into Tier 1(Purple/Widespread), nine were moved back into Tier 2 (Red/Substantial) and two were moved back into Tier 3 (Orange/Moderate).
In Tier 1, gyms are only allowed to operate outdoors. In Tier 2, gyms can open indoors but are limited to a capacity of 10 percent with climbing walls allowed to reopen. In Tier 3, indoor fitness can occur at a maximum capacity of 25 percent and indoor pools can reopen. In Tier 4, indoor operations are allowed at gyms at 50 percent capacity, and saunas and steam rooms can reopen.
The new classification was effective Nov. 17, and no end date has been announced. The governor’s office stated the state public health officer will determine when it is appropriate to make modifications based on public health conditions and data.
The state will reassess data continuously and move more counties back if necessary. California is also strengthening its face covering guidance to require individuals to wear a mask whenever outside their home, with limited exceptions.
Washington and Oregon also enacted changes to gym operations, which were detailed in this article. In Washington, indoor fitness facilities are closed, but gym operators can offer outdoor fitness classes with a limit of five people. These restrictions are in place through Dec. 14. In Oregon, the governor has closed gyms for two weeks to four weeks, depending on where in the state the business is located.
Updates on Other States
IHRSA has been tracking the status of gym shutdowns and regulations. The following are additional regulations as noted by IHRSA:
- Connecticut: Residents are advised to stay at home after 10 p.m.
- Indiana: On Nov. 15, the governor implemented a new tiered response system on a county level.
- Iowa: The governor implemented a statewide mask mandate (does not apply while exercising) and banned indoor group fitness classes.
- Massachusetts: All businesses in the state must adhere to a curfew between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- New Jersey: Businesses have a statewide 10 p.m. business curfew, but municipalities may require an 8 p.m. business curfew.
- Ohio: Beginning Nov. 19 and lasting for 21 days, the state has a business curfew of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. statewide.
- Pennsylvania: Health clubs can operate at 50 percent occupancy and appointments are encouraged, but outdoor fitness is prioritized.
Eight Steps IHRSA Suggests
IHRSA has offered eight steps to take when gym shutdowns seem likely in your state. For more details on each step, go here to read the IHRSA article:
- Identify Key Decision Makers and Their Scope
- Gather Compelling Research Demonstrating Clubs Are Lower Risk Environments
- Stay on Top of the Latest Evidence and Make Sure it’s Accurate
- Determine the Best Vehicle and Strategy to Get Your Message Heard
- Don’t Tell—Show—That Clubs Are Safe
- Decide the Protocols You Will Implement to Keep Your Club Open
- Start Reaching Out to Local Health Authorities Now—Don't Assume Outreach is Hopeless
- Support Industry Efforts for Government Relief