COVID-19: Gym owners call on Alberta government to ease more restrictions, allow for full reopening

Alberta gym owners are calling on the provincial government to further ease pandemic-related restrictions and allow gyms and fitness studios to fully reopen.

Fitness Industry Council of Canada Alberta Coalition president Scott Wildeman said the government missed the mark when it comes to Stage 1 reopening plans. On behalf of Alberta gym owners, he is asking Premier Jason Kenney and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw to reconsider their position and allow them to welcome back their clients.

“We need restrictions to be lifted,” Wildeman said Thursday. “We need to have more people be able to access our facilities. We believe we can do so safely — so that’s our focus right now. What does it look like, if that doesn’t happen? It’s pretty catastrophic.”

Stage 1, which is tentatively set to begin on Feb. 8, allows for a partial reopening, allowing only one-on-one personal training and by appointment only.

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Wildeman said many owners have already pivoted part of their business, offering up virtual classes and the like, but said it’s not enough to sustain operations.

“I think every business has to be looking at their operations (and) talking to their landlords,” he said. “I know that’s happening behind the scenes with every single business… but at the end of the day, we require membership dues, we require people coming in and purchasing workouts to stay viable.”

They asked about possibly moving Stage 2 up, currently planned for March 1, if cases continue to trend downward — but said the government remained firm on its position.

“We do appreciate the goalposts and the stages, (but) we’d like to accelerate it,” he said, adding they can’t have further closures.

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said spread and outbreaks have been seen in all sectors of society.

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“There can be an increased risk of transmission in fitness and exercise settings,” he said. “We recognize that gym operators have worked very hard to protect Albertans and safely manage these facilities.  This is about how the virus spreads.

“This is a first step. We are moving cautiously to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as we ease restrictions. Allowing fitness activities with a trainer will help Albertans get back to work while also helping minimize the risk of transmission. Individual workouts without a trainer will be considered in the future.”

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Those in the fitness sector maintain the sector is a safe one, and say only 147 cases between June and November last year were linked to gyms.

Read more: Calgary restaurant owners remain ‘vigilant’ ahead of Stage 1 reopening amid COVID-19

Gym owner Emily Slaneff said her gym CrushCamp in Calgary’s East Village is losing $25,000 per month — a number she said is higher than the average gym.

Crushcamp owner Emily Slaneff said she’s losing about $25,000 per month. Kevin Billo / Global News

“If we are permitted to open in March, it will still be at a deficit, it’ll just be chipping away at that $25,000 monthly loss… But of course, the longer you can stay open, you can build that momentum and just the public perception and confidence starts to come back,” Slaneff said.

She said she hasn’t seen a single case of COVID-19 at her studio and she’s disappointed by the government’s position, as well as its messaging.

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“I operated here 16,000 workouts and we had zero cases,” Slaneff said. “So I’m kind of saying, ‘Why am I being penalized for some risk that we never saw when we worked really hard to prevent it?’ Those types of statements were also really hard on our industry.”

According to a survey done by the Fitness Industry Council, more than 50 per cent of facilities surveyed said they would not survive another two months of closure, and roughly 2,500 employees are without work and many are not eligible for EI or other benefits.

It’s a difficult situation Mike Du is also familiar with, with the closures impacting his boutique fitness studio and staff.

“I’ve got a lot of staff… some that are full-time and really count on us as a revenue source,” he said. “When I think of just in terms of mental health of our community, of our members and our staff, that alone is already a huge detriment, and then you put the weight of the economy and not having any income.

“We’re a pretty small community, especially boutique fitness. Most of us do group training, and when you can’t do any of it, I mean, that’s the majority of our bottom line right there.

“Even allowing us to just to relax a little bit more — serve just a few more people — I think will help improve the lives of many Albertans.”

Revive Fitness Lifestyle owner Mike Du says he and his staff are feeling the impact of the closures. Jerry Favero / Global News

Industry leaders said they recently launched a video to relay that message; that gyms are safe and need more supports. A petition calling on the government to allow gyms to reopen has received more than 33,000 signatures.

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The consensus among many gym owners: there need to be additional financial programs from the province to ensure many small business owners are able to survive well after the pandemic.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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