Decisions about 'safe' fitness activities will be made by gyms, clients, Alberta health minister says

Decisions about what constitutes "safe" indoor fitness activities will be left to gym owners and their clients, Alberta's health minister says.

Alberta Health reported two more deaths and 257 new cases on Tuesday

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updated the province about COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press; Art Raham/CBC)

Decisions about what constitutes "safe" indoor fitness activities will be left to gym owners and their clients, Alberta's health minister says.

Under Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan, announced on Monday, gyms and fitness centres were allowed to reopen for "low-intensity" activities.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday there was some confusion about which activities would be allowed and tried to clear that up.

"If you operate a gym, you can be open," he said. "That is perfectly within the rules."

Shandro said "low-intensity" activities are those that don't significantly raise a person's breathing rate, and said gyms and clients will be allowed to make such decisions for themselves.

"We're relying on owners and clients to use judgment, to show good faith," Shandro said at a news conference.

Alberta reported two more deaths and 257 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Hospitals were treating 261 patients for the illness, including  54 in ICU beds.

The province identified another 35 cases of more-contagious variants of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours. Testing has now confirmed 484 cases of a variant first identified in the United Kingdom and eight of a variant first identified in South Africa. 

B.C. model successful

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said physical activity and fitness play an importance role in overall physical and mental health, which is why the province wanted to find ways to safely reopen gyms and fitness centres for "lower-risk" individual activities.

She said the province believe operators are committed to providing safe environments to prevent COVID-19 spread.

"We also heard from some stakeholders that the B.C. model that uses a differentiation between high- and low-intensity exercise had been successful in that province," she said.

"We know that COVID-19 spreads in droplets, and when we are engaged in high-intensity activities, defined … as activities where our breathing rate gets faster, we know that we produce more droplets, and increase the risk of virus spread."

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In a bid to clear up confusion around COVID-19 safety practices for gyms, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said facilities will need to monitor activities to keep the intensity down.

B.C. took a similar approach, she said, and COVID-19 numbers there been relatively stable.

"With this in mind, we looked for ways to open up facilities for Albertans that would allow for low-intensity activities in gyms, and we chose to implement an approach similar to B.C.," she said.

"This empowers operators to tailor their programs for clients to calibrate their services to the activities that will improve fitness while minimizing COVID-19 risk."

No caps on attendance

Rather than using caps on attendance, such as those put in place for restaurants and retails shops, gyms will limit their capacity by using physical-distancing protocols that require a minimum of three metres between clients, Hinshaw said.

"This approach still limits the capacity of facilities for safety, but is more flexible and responsive to the spacing of individual workout areas, rather than a specific number," she said.

"I know that finding ways to stay active when gyms are closed can be more difficult in the cold winter months. Fortunately the days are getting warmer and longer, so that provides more opportunities for everyone to get outside for exercise and fresh air.

Current health measures allow for outdoor physical activity in groups of up to 10, Hinshaw said, so long as people are at least two metres apart.

Alberta Health Services will work closely with gyms and fitness centres to provide education and support, she said.

"Penalties would only be used when there are intentional and repeated violations of safety rules."

Relaunch moving ahead

Alberta eased some public health restrictions on Monday, marking the beginning of Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan.

Libraries are now allowed to reopen with 15 per cent of fire-code capacity, and fitness centres can resume low-intensity individual and group workouts for adults.

Alberta implemented into Step 1 of its relaunch on Feb. 8, when restaurants and bars were permitted to reopen for indoor service. 


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