For tens of thousands in the Philadelphia area, and millions nationwide, gyms and fitness studios are an integral part of daily life. People use gyms and fitness studios to blow off steam through lifting weights, recover from injury through physical therapy, or relax and recharge through yoga and meditation. These facilities, for many, create community.
We’re hoping this week to do do again — without excessive roadblocks.
We have nearly reached the eleventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that has flipped life upside down. When coronavirus hit Philadelphia, gyms and fitness studios were among the many “non-essential” businesses forced to shut their doors. At first that lasted two weeks. Then two weeks turned into four, and eventually became more than four months. Many of us voluntarily shut our doors before city and statewide mandates were put into place.
When we reopened this past summer, it was with a long list of health and safety measures in place to protect ourselves and our members. We developed best practices to ensure minimal transmission. Masks were mandated, capacity limits reduced, machines spaced further apart, and guests required to register in advance for gym access and classes. Many of us made significant financial investments in our facilities to ensure that the risk of COVID spread was as close to zero as possible. Those who still felt uncomfortable with the risk could continue to take advantage of virtual classes many of us offered online. Of course, there were bad actors who eschewed health guidelines, but those were in the minority.
Then came Nov. 20. Amid rising case counts, officials decided to shutter gyms and fitness studios once more, delivering a second gut punch to myself and my hardworking colleagues. Though we did our absolute best to adhere to all guidelines, we were still forced to close again. Data submitted voluntarily by local gym and studio owners from July 21 (our reopening date) to November 20 showed only 36 known cases out of 408,493 gym visits — .0088%.
Over the last nine-plus months, gym owners and other small business owners who wanted to reopen were accused of denying the realities of coronavirus. In reality it’s the opposite. We do not want to fight against city and health officials. We recognize the seriousness of this virus. Many of us have lost loved ones, have family who are essential workers, and have witnessed firsthand the devastation this virus has caused. We also know we need to open to make money and stay in business. It feels like an impossible situation.
We anticipate that on Jan. 4, we will be allowed to open our doors again and welcome our members into a safe environment. But, there are still some kinks to be worked out to ensure we will be able to offer continuous services. A lack of clarity and communication has left us in the dark on important matters. At the Philadelphia Fitness Coalition, we are looking for answers from city officials on the following:
What happens after Jan. 4?
What needs to happen for us to stay open?
How can gyms prove that they are compliant with regulations? What happens to gyms that aren’t complying?
How can gyms get much-needed financial support, and access to free COVID-19 testing on a regular basis?
The list above is not exhaustive, but it’s a start. We want to be part of the solution. We have ideas that will not only help gyms, but other small business owners, like using our built-in client tracking systems to help with contract tracing.
Many independent gym and studio owners are not much different than an owner of a family restaurant or shop. We cannot afford to build large outdoor spaces to offer our services. The price of HEPA filters is cost-prohibitive for many studio owners. We are not working with large corporate budgets. We have had to be creative in developing cost-effective solutions to keep Philadelphians safe, and we want to work hand-in-hand with the city to implement those ideas on a larger scale across multiple industries.
Without solutions, many gyms, fitness studios, and other small businesses will be forced to close permanently. We are ready to work with the city to develop common sense solutions that will allow us to survive COVID-19 and prepare for crises that may arise in the future.