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Lethbridge gym rethinks breaking Alberta health order

A southern Alberta gym owner who promised to flout COVID-19 science and health guidelines says he'll wait to open his doors until he's heard from health officials.

Club owner will now work with officials after vowing to flout public health restrictions

Lethbridge gym owner Lee Mein said he's going to wait to reopen his cage fighting gym, pending guidance from health officials. (Submitted by Lee Mein)

A southern Alberta gym owner who was threatening to flout COVID-19 science and health guidelines says he'll wait to open his doors until he's heard from health officials.

Lee Mein, the owner of the Canadian Martial Arts Centre in Lethbridge, said in a Facebook video that he had spoken Wednesday with officials at Alberta Health Services, and also to his local MLA.

After those conversations, he said he will not open as he promised on June 1 and will instead wait for guidance from health officials. 

"They're all helping us work together to make something happen so we can proceed with what we do here," Mein said. "We're going to try to speed up this process of opening. Hopefully something comes sooner than later."

Gyms not permitted to open yet

Gyms in Alberta will be permitted to open in Stage 3 of Alberta's relaunch strategy. No date for that has been set, and the province is currently in Stage 1. 

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Alberta Health said officials were looking at whether some additional activities could be allowed sooner.

"We have heard the concerns and opinions expressed by Albertans and are currently exploring whether some sporting and indoor fitness activities could be safely allowed in Stage 2," spokesperson Tom McMillan said by email. "No decisions have been made yet on if this will occur or what activities would be included."

He declined to comment on the Lethbridge martial arts centre and the meeting with its owner.

Mein had previously posted a video to Facebook and said he would not wait for Stage 3 and instead open his gym for June. He also said he would not be adding extra cleaning procedures, as has been required in British Columbia.

"Why do I have to wear a mask as an instructor … yet you don't have to wear a mask at a grocery store. How does that make any sense at all?" Mein said in the original video.

"I don't see the proof that people are interacting with each other and then dropping dead. That is not happening."

Follow science and the law, experts urged

His statements rallied other like-minded people on social media. Others were outraged.

They also prompted health officials and criminologists to urge attention to the science on which COVID-19 policy is based, and noted that violating the public health order would be violating the law.

The Lethbridge Police Service also said that if gyms opened in violation with provincial rules, its officers would be prepared to issue a ticket.

Mein said he heard those critiques and reached out to book a meeting with health officials.

"I'm not pointing fingers and yelling. I'm trying to communicate. I'm trying to make something happen," Mein said, adding he felt the official was respectful and dedicated to finding a solution.

"Let's make it work."

He noted that his gym isn't like a gymnastics club or kids' summer camp but combat sports. He said he would like to see laid-out protocols that he can read and rebut if needed.

In his new video, Mein said he explained to Alberta health officials how his mixed martial arts and cage fighting classes work.

He said they're using that information to help him develop a plan for eventual reopening. Now he's now waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, he said he is holding a barbecue for members next week. He added that event would follow the province's guidelines and be capped at 50 people.

With files from Colleen Underwood and David Bell

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