Coronavirus: Fitness industry frustrated City of Winnipeg employee gyms remain open

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg gym owners cry foul after learning City employees access private gym'
Winnipeg gym owners cry foul after learning City employees access private gym
Under heavy level red restrictions, most businesses, such as gyms, have had to shut their doors for the last two months. This, even though City employees have access to a private facility, which gym owners say is an unfair double standard. Global's Amber McGuckin has the story – Jan 19, 2021

Since November, gyms across Manitoba have been shut down for COVID-19 health protocols, but that hasn’t been the case for all fitness facilities.

Some City of Winnipeg employee gyms have remained open.

“Provincial health officials advised us that these facilities, used exclusively by City employees, could remain open. These facilities have guidelines in place to help maintain our employees’ health and safety,” a spokesperson for the city says.

“Among them, users are required to respect posted capacity limits and follow physical distancing guidelines of staying two metres/six feet apart.”

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says the city didn’t need special permission to keep gyms open.

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“Our public health orders don’t apply to any levels of government. So they don’t apply to federal, provincial or municipal governments. So I am aware of health inspectors having visited some of these gyms and have found them safe. They weren’t given an exception outside the order.”

The city confirmed to Global News it sought clarification several months ago, and says the province gave them the green light as long as posted capacity limits and physical guidelines were maintained.

“However, prior to today, we were not aware that this exemption was granted to us solely by virtue that we are a municipal government,” a written statement sent to Global News reads.

Since this story was written, the city has changed course — shutting down five facilities at various workplaces.

It plans to keep facilities inside Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service stations open “because mandatory fitness standards are a requirement of first responders’ jobs.”

In the meantime, city employees are being encouraged to explore alternative ways of maintaining their physical health while adhering to public health guidelines.

Mayor Brian Bowman declined an interview request for Tuesday but a statement from his office said “the Mayor has been advised by the public service that the operation of staff fitness facilities is in compliance with provincial public health orders.”

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While the province announced on Tuesday potential expansions of the COVID-19 public health orders, the reopening of gyms isn’t on the list.

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“Gyms, restaurants and organized recreation will be continued to be reviewed for further iterations,” Roussin said adding that indoor prolonged contact is a higher risk of transmission for COVID-19 compared to passing someone in a store.

Manitoba RCMP confirmed that all gyms in their headquarters and all detachments have been closed.

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Paul Taylor, the owner of Brickhouse Gyms in Winnipeg, says it’s hypocritical to allow city workers to access the gym but not allow others.

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“We are operating under the premise that going to the gym is unhealthy for you at a time like this and puts you at undue risk for COVID-19 and what have you, but if it’s such a risky activity, why are we putting our police and front-line workers and city workers, why would we be exposing them to unnecessary danger?”

Brickhouse Gyms, like many other fitness facilities in the province, were following public health orders with social distancing and cleaning protocols in place in order to stay open but were forced close under the province’s level red restrictions that came into effect in November.

“We desperately want to be allowed to exist so we will do everything necessary and we won’t take the ability to open for granted,” he said.

Taylor’s gym has been closed for nearly six of the past 12 months and he says it’s a financial struggle.

“Just the hydro alone is easily $10,000 to $11,000 from this lockdown and I’m still making payments on the first lockdown. That’s $20,000 just in Manitoba Hydro that I owe them for the six months I was forced to be closed and couldn’t make a dime.”

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In the province’s public health act, it says there are exceptions but “all indoor sporting or recreational facilities, including gyms and fitness facilities, must be closed while these Orders are in effect.”

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The exceptions listed include professional hockey teams, or athletes who have been identified as Olympic or Paralympic competitors.

Stephanie Jeffrey is the executive director of the Manitoba Fitness Council, which represents about 1,000 fitness instructors in the province.

Jeffrey says she understands why some City of Winnipeg employees may need to keep up their physical workouts to do their jobs, but they aren’t the only ones.

“I think it’s really important to have some gyms open because there are some jobs — most jobs require a level of cardiovascular endurance as well as strength, and I would say more than others. I wouldn’t want to see them close, I think we should all be open.”

Jeffrey says she thinks there’s a balance that could be reached to help people de-stress with a workout and keep them safe with COVID-19 precautions in place.

“I think if we opened up like we did before, where we had capacity limits plus strict cleaning protocols, there were very few gyms fined during that time for not following those protocols and they will do whatever it takes to get back open and those who participate in those programs and go to those facilities are also willing to do whatever it takes to get themselves back,” Jeffrey said.

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There’s still no word yet on when gyms will be allowed to reopen in the province, but the next public health order that goes into effect on Saturday runs at least three weeks long.

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