Gym owners across B.C. are jumping for joy after the province announced gyms and fitness facilities will be allowed to reopen this week.
It was a stressful 24 hours for gym owners as they awaited their fate after the previous order that forced them to close their doors was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Before the official press conference on Tuesday, confusion started swirling online Monday night about whether gyms would be able to re-open or if the previous order would be extended indefinitely.
“It was a whirlwind,” says the co-owner of CrossFit Zone in Victoria Alex Mueller. “It was like the past two years jammed pack into 24 hours, we are just excited we get to open up again.”
Gyms were ordered to close on Dec. 22 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.
During the press conference, Dr. Bonnie Henry apologized for the confusion.
“First, I’d like to apologize for the confusion on the order timing and the adjustments that were required yesterday,” says Henry. “The intent was to have the orders in place until I could provide clear direction on orders at today’s briefing and that was a little bit of an error on our part having them expire at 12:01 instead of 11:59 tonight.”
Gyms and fitness centres can reopen on Jan. 20 with capacity limits and limited operation to one person per 2.5 metres squared of floor space. People must also provide proof of vaccination. Fans or heaters are not allowed under the new guidelines, and masks must be worn at all times except when exercising.
The relief of the announcement that gyms could re-open was felt across the province. Whistler Creek Athletic Club owner Hannah Edleston says the past 24 hours was an emotional rollercoaster.
“Originally, it wasn’t clear what she was extending the order on so I was in tears and then she mentioned later on that gyms were re-opening on the 20th and I was having a heart attack,” says Edleston.
Now the work starts for gym owners as they try to get clients back in the gym and sort through the new orders to make sure everyone is safe and healthy.
“Try and recoup some sales, obviously January is our most profitable month of the year so we need to knuckle down,” she says. “I am just so relieved.”
Edleston says her gym has jumped through hoops and taken extra measures to keep everyone safe and follow the guidelines.
“It’s been exhausting… It’s been really hard, especially this last lockdown has been really tough," she says.
Mueller says her gym in Victoria was able to stay open through the pandemic thanks to the community they’ve created.
“The only reason we’ve survived the past couple of years is because of the community we have standing behind us, they have so much trust and support in what we have to offer,” she says.
Both gyms in Whistler and Victoria say they will work over the next few days to make sure their gyms are ready to re-open on Thursday. One gym in B.C.’s interior has chosen not to shut down during this current lockdown and says they will continue to stay open over the next few days.
Iron Energy Fitness in West Kelowna refused to follow the public health order to shut down and was fined $2,300. The gym was able to raise enough money through a GoFundMe to pay for the fine nearly four times over.
Co-owner Brian Mark says the announcement that gyms are reopening further proves his stance to stay open.
“When we looked at why the gyms were closed in the first place, it just didn’t make any sense to us. How can you argue that malls are a safer place and casinos are a safer place than gyms?” he says.
Marks says it’s great the gyms are open but “it still doesn’t make sense, the mandates still don’t make sense to us.”
Iron Energy Fitness will be following the rules with the new order in regards to cleaning and space in the gym. There are currently 1,350 people who are members at the gym, according to Mark.
“Right now nothing has changed, we give a water bottle to every member with a cloth they can learn and we are asking members to walk around with their masks,” he says. “We follow the guidelines.”
In a written statement to Glacier Media, Jason Sheridan the chief operating officer at GoodLife Fitness says he’s thankful fitness clubs will reopen. He also says that GoodLife’s staff are prepared to meet all public health guidelines.
“In doing so, affirming the crucial role gyms play in supporting people’s mental health and overall recovery from the pandemic,” says Sheridan.
The Fitness Industry Council of Canada echos the relief felt by many gym owners, adding that their consistent and powerful advocacy has led to the decision to re-open.
“We stayed calm and focused on our main objective: To make the government see that fitness is essential to our physical and mental well-being, and to get our industry back up and running,” says Sara Hodson, president of the Fitness Industry Council (FIC) of Canada.
Dr. Bonnie Henry calls the opening a “cautious step” and the new guidelines were created by working closely with the Fitness Industry Council of Canada.
“We’ve learned about the measures that are important to help make sure they can restart safely and still protect people most at risk,” says Henry.
Hudson adds that what matters most now is that gyms are allowed to reopen and welcome British Columbians back.