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Health Department Data: A Resource As Gyms Fear Closures

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Health department data from states like Colorado, Vermont and Louisiana showcases gyms are lower-risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to other businesses.

As many states across the U.S. impose additional COVID-19 restrictions, gym operators are fighting to remain open. Many are turning to their local and state health departments for data that supports gyms are lower-risk compared to businesses like restaurants, bars and casinos. 

This includes Michael Feitelberg, the president of The Edge Vermont. 

Michael Feitelberg.

“I have been moving us into a more offensive position to push the data on safety and the benefits of exercise as a means to remain physically and mentally well during the grips of the pandemic,” said Feitelberg. “Despite our very good relationship with the state, I am understandably concerned given certain political pressures and rising cases.”

Local and state health department data can be helpful. Recently, a spokesperson from the Vermont Health Department told the Burlington Free Press they haven’t linked any outbreaks of COVID-19 infections back to gyms. 

“We have seen instances where individuals attended athletic classes or gyms while infectious,” said Ben Truman to the Burlington Free Press. “However, we have not seen outbreaks associated with gyms, nor documented instances of transmission within that setting.”

Gyms in the state of Colorado were recently able to remain open, despite certain counties moving into Safer At Home: Level 3 COVID-19 restrictions. Data played a role in this decision, with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment reporting zero outbreaks linked back to gyms as of October 28, 2020. 

The Louisiana Department of Health also reports the number of COVID-19 outbreaks broken down by industry, with gyms ranking much lower compared to office spaces, bars and religious services. 

“We’re not trying to run away or separate from the health department,” said Feitelberg. “We’re looking to run in conjunction with them. They’ve actually been a great ally to us when it comes to things like contact tracing. They’ve been great to work with.” 

Many gyms have also been referencing the Chicago Medical Society’s recent statement arguing that gyms should remain open because they offer a safe environment, and due to the physical and mental health benefits they provide.

With this in mind, Feitelberg encouraged operators to work with their state and local health departments, and to reference third-party data when educating the public on the safety of gyms. 

“We have to take the data we’ve been given and share it with our teams, our members and the public,” said Feitelberg. “Use resources inside and outside the industry.”

UPDATE: Scott Gillespie, the president of Saco Sport & Fitness, shared the following on state outbreak tracing by industry segment, including insights from public officials:

Louisiana

Masks are not required. Gyms reopened on May 1st, and are currently ranked 11th in reported cases compared to other businesses. Fitness centers have:

  • 9.1 times less cases than bars
  • 4.6 times less cases than restaurants
  • 4 times less cases than churches  
  • 3 times less cases than retail

Maine

Masks are required. According to Gillespie, CDC Director Dr. Shah was asked in one of his daily press conferences last week if gyms are safe and should remain open? His response: “Gyms should not be closed because they are keeping people healthy and they have little evidence that gyms are a cause of transmission.”

Massachusetts

Masks are required. Gyms are in 17th place, accounting for .002% of spread, combined with “recreation.”

  • 4.2 times less cases than restaurants (bars never opened).
  • 4.5 times less cases than churches.

New York

Masks are required. Gym are in 25th place accounting for 0.06% of spread. According to Gillespie, there have been five tracked events in the whole state. On December 9, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Gyms are not a source of spread.”

Washington State

Masks are required. Gyms rank in 16th place in the same category with arts and entertainment. 

Washington D.C.

Mask are required. According to Gillespie, D.C. only publishes the top 12 categories accounting for 100% of tracked outbreaks, and fitness centers are not on the list.

New Jersey

Masks are required. On December 11, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy said, “Fitness centers are not a source of transmission.”

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Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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