President Donald Trump called for the reopening of America’s gyms after unveiling the federal government’s three-phase plan to reopen the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and after a phone call with the owners of some major fitness companies, including SoulCycle.
On Thursday, Trump announced the guidelines for Phase One, which looked to reopen restaurants, cinemas, places of worship, and large sporting venues, as well as gyms, “if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocol,” according to a White House memo titled “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.”
Trump called for the reopening of gyms after a call with SoulCycle’s owner, Stephen Ross, and others on the president’s economic revitalisation task force that includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Jimmy John Liautaud of the Jimmy John’s restaurant chain, and Bahram Akradi, chief executive of health club chain Life Time, according to The Daily Beast. Critics believe that call influenced his decision to include gyms in the first wave of businesses targeted to reopen. In an email statement to The Daily Beast, a Related spokesperson wrote, “Stephen Ross never discussed gyms, exercise clubs or anything like that with the President and this story is factually incorrect garbage.”
Even if Ross wasn’t discussing the business of his gyms, which also includes Equinox, Blink Fitness, and Pure Yoga, someone was. Crunch’s CEO, Jim Rowley, told NBC News that he gave money to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) to help its lobbying efforts to get gyms included in the first phase. But even he was surprised that it worked. "It was probably the first time I'd smiled in 30 days," Rowley told NBC. The IHRSA also thanked Trump in a personal letter, calling it a “small victory.”
The newly released guidelines are designed to "mitigate the risk of resurgence" of COVID-19 and “to protect the most vulnerable,” according to the White House. But medical experts say reopening gyms would have adverse effects. “Gyms are like a petri dish,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast.
At a gym, Gostin noted, people will be in tight indoor spaces where they will be coughing, sneezing, sweating, and touching multiple surfaces. They will be sharing equipment that will be hard to disinfect properly. “Literally all of the heightened risk factors for COVID transmission are all entwined together in a gym,” he said, adding that “there was certainly no attempt” by the White House “to put in any scientific evidence as to why they’re safe or how they could possibly be made safe.”
In an interview with Cheddar, Planet Fitness’s CEO, Chris Rondeau, talked about what social distancing at a gym might look like. Rondeau said he will be “reiterating cleaning policies and procedures with his staff,” but also plans to follow the lead of a gym that recently reopened in Asia, which "unplugged every other piece of cardio, so that forced some space between treadmills, for example," he said. "That might be one thing we have to do at the beginning.”
Last month, Dr. David Thomas, a professor of medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The New York Times that there was a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 from a gym than at a church service. However, gym-goers should be careful of infected surfaces such as equipment since the virus can live on metal, glass, and plastic for up to nine days.
It’s why Thomas suggested taking matters into one’s own hands when returning to the gym. “I’ll probably bring my own wipes,” he told The Times. “I’ll know that they’re the right wipes and they have the right concentration of alcohol.”
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.