UPDATE: GoodLife Fitness announced on the evening of March 15 that it is closing all locations in Canada effective immediately.
Most gyms and fitness centres across Canada say they’re still planning to keep their doors open despite the spread of novel coronavirus that has infected thousands worldwide.
As of Saturday, gym chains like Goodlife Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness and Hone Fitness have said that they would stay open, and have ramped up sanitation and prevention efforts to keep COVID-19 from spreading across their locations.
“We’re not closing,” said Jim Gordon, CEO of Toronto-based Hone Fitness which has seven locations.
“We’ve been very sensitive, obviously, we’ve implemented a schedule to where all the employees are cleaning every hour … we go around the gym and wipe down to try and take an active role in this thing.”
Gordon said that they’ve doubled down on cleaning their locations with heavy-duty disinfectant wipes, as well as introducing signage to remind its customers and employees to keep their spaces clean.
“We aggressively use them, tell members to use them before and after they get out of the machine,” said Gordon. “It costs us a lot of money, much more than the spray, so that’s really the core.”
Gyms — which have hot and damp environments making them hotspots for bacteria to spread — have come under heavy scrutiny as potential vectors for the spread of the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 infection spreads through the upper respiratory system into other respiratory tracts. Health experts have since said that the virus cannot be transmitted through sweat or bacteria — both of which are prevalent in gyms.
Public health experts, however, have argued on both sides of the coin for and against gyms to stay open.
“Bacteria … comes up in sweat, and you’ve got all these common touch surfaces that you’re leaning against, that you’re sitting on, that you’re holding with your hand,” Colin Furness, an assistant professor in health policy management at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told Global News in a previous interview.
Furness said that most of the time, the bacteria from those surfaces won’t affect you. What he’s worried about, however, is those at the gym who may not know that they’ve been infected with COVID-19, and end up coughing onto their hands and touching equipment.
Hone Fitness’ approach to preventing the spread of the virus looks to be one that’s been adopted across the board.
“Currently all of our clubs are open with normal operating hours and the health and safety of everyone in our locations remains our top priority,” read a statement from Brad Lindsay, Goodlife Fitness’ director of health and safety, which also emphasized “increasing daily cleaning in all clubs.”
“We have a dedicated team closely monitoring recommendations from public health agencies and will continue to update our policies and procedures where needed.”
Goodlife — which has over 300 locations across Canada — also posted a thorough “Novel Coronavirus” guideline in its FAQ section of their website, outlining what it was doing to prevent its spread, as well as what could potentially happen should a case of the virus be traced back to one of its gyms.
“Public Health Agencies have procedures in place to trace potential contact should an individual be diagnosed with COVID-19. If GoodLife is informed by these Agencies that there has been a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in one of our locations, GoodLife will immediately and closely follow the direction given by the Agencies,” read the statement. ”
“This could include temporarily closing the location to perform precautionary cleaning.”
Emails from Anytime Fitness, Steve Nash Fitness World & Sports Club and Planet Fitness deferred to COVID-19 guidelines already posted on their websites or sent to their customers — all detailing further sanitation efforts on their part to stop the spread.
Colleen Kirk, publicist for the B.C.-based Steve Nash fitness clubs said that the status of their gyms, which all remain open, could change at any moment.
“We’re literally looking at the situation and are watching government recommendations,” said Kirk. “A lot of our members don’t want the club to close, but then, on the other hand, we have the safety of everyone and our job as community members is we have to do what’s best for the community.”
Both companies did, however, make an announcement on COVID-19 risks on their websites, which also stressed both their use of sanitation products as well as the wiping down of their equipment.
At least one fitness group of fitness centres have decided to shut their doors amid the outbreak.
YMCA centres across the Greater Toronto Area made the announcement Saturday to close all of their health and fitness centers until April 5. Other services the YMCA immediately cancelled in the Toronto area were its child care centres and March break camps.
A statement earlier on Saturday from YMCA Canada’s communications manager Angela de Burger said that YMCAs across Canada were “continuing to develop individual COVID-19 response plans in alignment with information and guidance from local municipal and provincial governments.”
The spread of COVID-19, which has to date infected more than 150,000 and killed more than 5,800, has prompted emergency shutdowns of non-essential services in countries heaviest hit by the outbreak.
Canada has 313 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death. The bulk of the cases are in Ontario, which announced 39 new cases Sunday, bringing its total to 142.
— With files from The Associated Press and Global News’ Meghan Collie