The initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to completely alter our everyday lives almost overnight. It was only several months later that state government officials began giving businesses the green light to reopen with new health restrictions.
Few industries have seen as many restrictions as the fitness industry.
Shutting down played an important role in affording public health experts time to learn more about the coronavirus and better understand how it spreads, what we can do to control case numbers, and how day-to-day life can safely resume. But the shutdowns came with a grave economic toll, especially for local gyms and fitness centers, which were only allowed to reopen long after other businesses. Though we were late to reopen, Gov. Walz’s announcement on Nov. 18 of another month-long closure guaranteed we were among the first to close again.
Many local gyms like mine are struggling and facing real concerns about our future viability. According to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association, roughly a quarter of all fitness facilities in the U.S. could close by the end of the year because of financial troubles related to the pandemic, as the New York Times reported Oct. 24. At a time when they are needed more than ever in recent memory, we are on the brink of losing centers vital for promoting the public’s health.
Gyms and fitness centers are invaluable during times like these. Exercise builds and maintains strong immune systems to help fend off viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. But as people were left to stay at home without their regular exercise facilities early in the pandemic, fitness levels across the country dropped, as ABC News reported in August. Widespread obesity, which can increase the chances of experiencing severe complications from COVID-19, became an even more serious concern for health experts.
That’s where gyms come in. I’m proud that gyms like mine provide a venue for people to bolster both their physical and mental health, and they could prove crucial for our long-term recovery.
To be sure that our gyms are around long enough to play their part in America’s recovery from this pandemic, they need the support of our elected leaders in Washington. While many gym owners in Minnesota and across the country qualified for assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program in the spring, they were unable to use it to its fullest for critical expenses like rent, which was capped at 40%. By granting adequate relief funds, the government can provide a new opportunity for these gyms to find strong footing once again and to continue providing key services for their communities. The timing also couldn’t be more of the essence, with COVID cases on the rise and shutdown orders coming back around.
Few industries have felt the economic hardship caused by this pandemic quite as acutely as the fitness industry, and now many are speaking out. The Community Gyms Coalition (gymscoalition.org), which I’m part of, recently kicked off a new campaign to make it clear to Congress that local gyms like mine need relief — and fast. Local fitness centers are closing at unprecedented and unsustainable rates, and the best path forward is for policymakers to recognize the danger these gyms are facing and offer aid to boost the industry. If they don’t, communities across the country will lose out on opportunities to exercise and improve their health.
Fitness is one of the most surefire ways to prepare Americans to beat back this pandemic and go on to lead long, healthy lives once it finally passes. That is why the recent spate of gym closures across America should be concerning to all of us. If closures are allowed to continue unimpeded, our public health will suffer even more than it already has, and the road to recovery will only become more challenging.
Pat Crosby of Excelsior, Minnesota, is owner of CrossFit SISU (crossfitsisu.com), which has gyms in the Minnesota cities of Plymouth, Excelsior, and Medina. He wrote this for the News Tribune.