Red Deer gym owners want the government to release a targeted reopening plan so they can see a glimmer of light at the end of a long, COVID-induced tunnel.
Alberta Health should release some numbers, indicating that if new viral cases drop to a certain level, then gyms, restaurants and bars can reopen, said Jason MacDonald, owner of Pure Fitness Crossfit.
The businesses have been in a state of limbo since Dec. 8 when Premier Jason Kenney announced stringent restrictions to reduce the transmissions of COVID-19.
Hair salons and barber shops have since been allowed to restart their operations, but gyms are remaining closed for the foreseeable future, causing “frustration” in the industry, said MacDonald.
He questioned why Albertans can shop in person for clothes, crafts, appliances and virtually every other product, but can’t get healthy exercise in a gym? It’s ironic, since exercise could ease the mental strain of the pandemic, MacDonald added.
He also wondered why the provincial government appears to be targeting the fitness industry when few COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to gyms?
Al Parada, owner of Can Pro Athletic Training Centre, stressed that he and other gym owners have done everything possible to follow virus reducing protocols before the closures — including reducing client numbers and sanitizing equipment.
Only 15 to 18 people had been allowed to work out in his 10,000 square foot facility before the closures were announced.
Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said there’s an increased risk of viral transmission in fitness and exercise settings because a higher number of infectious particles are produced when people are physically active.
“This not a reflection of gym operators, who have worked very hard to protect their patrons. It is how the virus spreads,” he added.
While fitness activities can continue to take place outdoors or virtually, “we understand the significant challenges of not being able to fully open,” said McMillan.
“We are monitoring the situation closely. Provincial and regional data is being assessed to determine when the further easing of restrictions may be considered.”
Parada said, “Hopefully we’ll be allowed to open in the next few weeks,” since fixed facility costs, such as utilities and rent, have to be paid, regardless.
On Monday, Alberta Health confirmed that two new quicker-spreading virus variants are now in Alberta. Twenty cases of the U.K. variant and five cases of the South African one were detected in the province, nearly all linked to out-of-country travel.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro indicated this has caused renewed concern about the potential for climbing hospitalizations. It complicates the situation around easing restrictions, said the minister, who pledged to work with impacted industries to come up with a re-opening plan.
“We know the current restrictions are very disruptive to many Albertans, including gym owners. Unfortunately, it’s necessary to keep them in place for a little while longer,” said McMillan, who noted Alberta continues to have the second-highest active case rate per capita in Canada, and hospitalizations remain high.
“We have seen spread and outbreaks in all sectors of society, including in gyms and restaurants,” said McMillan.
“These facilities were temporarily closed as part of a broad suite of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting people from coming together in enclosed spaces for prolonged periods and spreading the virus.”
If the closures drag on much further, Parada predicted many gyms will be forced to shut permanently — which will be of concern to many clients who paid for memberships.