A Chatham-Kent gym owner, with support from the mayor and a local MPP, wants to see rules and regulations for gyms change after fitness clubs were forced to close their doors for a third time during last week’s lockdown.
Noting that Chatham-Kent’s rate of infection and active cases is significantly lower than federal or provincial averages, Dave Miller, owner of Performance 360 Health and Fitness Club, said it’s time to treat gyms as essential services.
“There’s people who need facilities, whether it is mine or someone else’s, that need it for rehabilitation or mental health. Youth who are also missing out on training are going to be put behind the eight ball too. Especially kids who have scholarship aspirations or to make a junior hockey team,” he said.
Prior to Ontario’s stay-at-home order, gyms were already suffering with a 10-person indoor limit in the Red Zone. Currently, they are idled.
Miller recently sent an e-mail to Chatham-Kent Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, Mayor Darrin Canniff and Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby, urging them to lobby the government to change the rules.
“I’ve been advocating, regarding the Ministry of Health, as to the importance of fitness for people, not just the physical fitness but also the mental fitness as well,” Nicholls said.
During the pandemic there have been multiple reports of gyms being hotspots for the transmission of COVID-19. Just last week one gym in Quebec City was linked to approximately 440 cases of COVID-19 spreading. Read more here.
“I feel that locally, our gyms are doing an exceptional job of keeping things clean and sterile. On their end, they’re following the proper protocols for COVID,” Nicholls said.
Miller added that a lot of health clubs are opening for their current membership and will not accept any clients from outside the municipality, even students coming home for the holidays.
Throughout the pandemic the Ontario government has gradually relaxed restrictions on various industries, such as restaurants. Canniff said now that the public is more aware of how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, gyms should be the next area the government looks to expand on, especially for mental health purposes.
While Miller is glad to see restaurants gain extra leeway when in the Red Zone – with 50 per cent of their capacity allowed indoors with no more than 50 people – he feels that it is unfair to impose harsher restrictions on fitness clubs, who should follow the same rules.
He would at least like to see regulations change to follow the same percentage of capacity rule. His cardio space alone can fit 15 people spaced 10 feet apart, while some smaller gyms cannot accommodate that.
“There’s more than enough space to spread everyone out. So it’s tough to swallow the rules being imposed because it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said.
Residents with a medical note from their doctor can use a gym for mental health purposes, but Miller feels with so many people feeling the effects of COVID-19, it is a bit “ridiculous” that everyone would have to seek permission from a physician to be allowed to exercise.
Some services, such as the cardiac rehabilitation program that runs out of his gym, are also allowed to remain open. From a business perspective, Miller would lose out if he staffed and opened the facility for such a small pocket of people. On top of that, two years ago he made renovations to expand the facility, with brand new equipment, costing him loans that would take a minimum of five years to pay off.
“When I made the investment into this 2.5 years ago I knew what I was able to carry to pay for my investments. I wasn’t banking on taking out $60,000 in government loans. I am appreciative of it but now I have to figure out what my game plan is in the next few years to pay it back on top of everything else I committed to. So it’s a double-edge sword.”
The government loans helped Miller through the seven months he was closed in the last year but it does not help his 18 employees who had to be laid off with just three days’ notice, he added.
“That has a big impact on people,” he said. “It’s tough for our staff who have young families. They don’t know what their employment is going to look like. (Government grants) are nice but they don’t help our staff. They only get paid when they can be here.”