British Columbia

B.C. fitness industry expresses frustration over provincial health orders

An order set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday was updated so that it remains in effect until Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the matter in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, B.C.'s health minister said.

Gym owners and clients have said the fitness industry has been unfairly targeted by the restrictions

People are pictured working out at Engineered Bodies Strength & Conditioning fitness gym hours before restrictions will take place in Port Moody, British Columbia on Wednesday, December 22, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Operators of gyms and fitness centres are expressing frustration as the B.C. government prepares to announce an update to provincial health orders on Tuesday afternoon. 

"For us being closed, and the opening and the closing, is taking a real toll," said Amanda Lau of Method Cycling, which operates spin studios in Vancouver and North Vancouver.

In December, the province announced measures that include the closure of gyms, bars and nightclubs. Other measures include no indoor organized gatherings of any size, including weddings, receptions and parties; a maximum of six people per table at a restaurant, pub or café; and reduced capacity at seated events like concerts, sports games, and movie theatres.

The order was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday, and was updated so that it remains in effect until Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the matter in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. 

Lau says Method Cycling has adhered to safety measures by spacing bikes out in a large space and ensuring patrons are vaccinated. 

"When a business abides by the rules and does the best they can and still cannot function even at half capacity to keep the business alive, that is very, very frustrating," she said.

Frustration and defiance

Fitness centre owners and gym-goers have said the fitness industry has been unfairly targeted by closures while other businesses such as shopping centres and restaurants are allowed to remain open. 

"For a lot of people, the gym is a place that they can channel the chaos that's in their mind through their body and through physical exertion," Kelowna gym owner Jade Bateman said. "I know for myself, when I had my child, the gym was essential for postpartum recovery, both mentally, and physically." 

The owners of Iron Energy Gym in West Kelowna said they plan to be open for business regardless of what the province mandates, citing a lack of scientific evidence that gyms are a source of transmission, and are asking other fitness centres to do the same. 

Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia's school of population and public health who specializes in respiratory medicine and airborne transmission, said there are reasons to be concerned about COVID-19 transmission in gyms. 

"We know that this virus is transmitted when you breathe out and you have the chance of becoming infected when you're breathing in what's in the air," he said. 

"Because people are exercising at gyms, they're breathing at a much higher rate. You're basically just pushing more air out if you are infected. And if you're not infected, you're breathing more air in and then increasing your chances of breathing in some virus that's in the air."

Brauer said there have been instances of outbreaks related to gyms.

Ventilation is a key factor, and proper spacing can help, he said. Masks can also help, but cloth face coverings and even surgical masks are not enough to curb the spread of the more infectious Omicron variant. He said N95 masks and KN95 masks are ideal, but "can be difficult to wear effectively in a gym environment because you're really relying on how well that mask seals."

Physical activity is key to health, Brauer said, and people should consider exercising outdoors or in spaces where they are isolated from other people. 

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