Rising COVID-19 Cases Lead to Restrictions on Health Clubs in Some Areas

Chicago is shutting down many businesses as part of an effort to mitigate an increase in COVID-19 cases, but the mayor has not included gyms in the closures. (Photo by AzmanJaka/iStock/Getty Images Plus.)

Officials in Chicago and Philadelphia are taking different approaches to gyms as COVID-19 cases in their areas increase while Oregon and Washington state take actions that close indoor gyms.

In addition, trade association IHRSA sent a letter to governors on Nov. 9 expressing that health clubs are an important and safe way for people to be healthy in hopes that it would encourage them to keep gyms open despite COVID-19 cases increasing in most states. The letter noted that club operators could help local officials keep citizens safe and assist in contact tracing if club staff complete a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health contact tracing course.

Clubs in Chicago received additional help from the Chicago Medical Society, which represents 17,000 physicians and licensed healthcare professionals in Cook County where Chicago is located. The organization sent a letter to Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot advocating that the city allow gyms that “operate in strict adherence to public health guidelines outlined by the CDC and local and state official” be allowed to open at 5 a.m. rather than the current 6 a.m. opening time.

The organization said that physicians rely on health clubs to reduce stress, build their immunity and maintain their mental health, and that many of them need access to gyms earlier than 6 a.m. due to their schedules.

The letter also said: “Data demonstrates that health clubs are safe environments right now, which is important because prioritizing health and fitness is more essential than ever. We believe that the responsibility is equally shared between the facility and its members to ensure a safe environment. Our physicians and licensed healthcare professionals would not enter an environment that they felt was unsafe, and we feel that it is critical to allow them the opportunity to get back into a regular fitness routine, offering innumerable benefits to both their physical and mental health, especially as we enter the winter months.”

Two days later, Lightfoot implemented a citywide strategy, Protect Chicago, that closes various businesses, but she did not order the closure of gyms.

Chicago residents are advised to adhere to the advisory, which went into effect on Nov. 16, 2020. In part, the guidelines limit meetings and social events to 10 individuals whether the gathering is indoors or outdoors, but the capacity limit does not supersede industries that have specific capacity guidelines in place, which include fitness clubs, retail stores, personal services and movie theaters (generally, 40 percent or 50 individuals max., whichever is fewer).

Despite Chicago allowing gyms to remain open, in Philadelphia, the story is different. Starting Nov. 20 and running through at least Jan. 1, 2021, indoor activities at gyms are prohibited to help curb the increase in COVID-19 cases. Exercise groups and classes may still occur outdoors. Recreational activities and sports for youth, community group and schools are also not allowed.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown implemented a two-week freeze on certain businesses, including health clubs, in parts of the state while other parts of the state with higher COVID-19 cases will be under a four-week freeze. The freeze starts on Nov. 18. The four-week freeze includes Multnomah County, in which Portland, Oregon, is located.

Among the businesses to close are gyms and fitness organizations as well as indoor recreational facilities, indoor pools and sports courts.

The two-week freeze does not apply to or change current health and safety protocols for personal services (such as barber shops, hair salons, and non-medical massage therapy), congregate homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, childcare, K-12 schools, K-12 sports currently allowed, current Division 1 and professional athletics exemptions, and higher education — all of which can continue operating under previous guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority.

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has implemented a four-week statewide set of restrictions that started on Nov. 16 and won’t end until Dec. 14. The restrictions close indoor fitness facilities. Outdoor fitness classes are permitted but are subject to and limited by the outdoor social gathering restriction, which is five people from outside a household.  

To help mitigate financial impacts on businesses and their employees, the state will commit $50 million in aid, according to the governor. In the short term, the state is commuting $20 million be dedicated to cash assistance targeted directly to hardest hit industries. Remaining funds will be focused on supporting recovery efforts through business loans. Additional details are forthcoming.

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.

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