Over the past weeks I have become more active with the FIC who are in direct daily communication with various levels of government in regard to gym COVID closures.  Today I sat through a difficult conversation as I listened to a gym owner facing immediate bankruptcy if he does not reopen in contradiction of the current provincial health orders.  One way or another he faces the loss of his business.

Here is what is not understood:

– Federal rent relief programs do not apply to BC gyms because our region is “Not Currently Under Shut Down”.  BC is open for business.  Only gyms and bars in BC are not therefore excluding us from the rent relief available to all businesses that operate within a fully closed province.

– The COVID relief grant for gyms with 5-99 employees is $5000.  Total.  At Empower our losses since the December 22 closure are estimated at:

Lost new business: estimated $15,000
Lost personal training revenue: estimated $11,000
Lost members: estimated $8400

The one-time payment of $5000 does not come anywhere near covering our lost income.

– Our coaches derive most of their income from personal training which is currently not permitted under current restrictions.  They are eligible for up to $300 per week COVID support from the government during the closure period.  Most of our coaches have families to support and rent to pay.  Can you imagine supporting your family on $300 per week?

– Your membership fees come close to covering our operating costs.  Our coach pay and profits are derived from personal training income.  Group class memberships do not fully cover our operating costs, we are currently at a slow bleed.

– The Empower owners are paid the same as our coaches.  Unlike many business owners, we are only paid for hours worked just like anybody else and at the same rates: $15/hour for administrative work, $25/hour for group class coaching or $45/hour for personal training.  If we don’t work, we don’t eat.

Not everyone is aware of the predicament gyms currently face.  We are hoping for a reopening January 18th but as of our most recent communication with her at 4:30pm Thursday January 13th, Henry has refused to commit to this.  If we are permitted to reopen it will be with strict COVID restrictions, chief among them, the return of capacity restrictions (probably 50%).

Dr. Henry has defended her closure of gyms with several rationalizations, all of which make decent sound bites but upon examination demonstrate no underlying reason:

1) Dr. Henry claims that unlike rec hockey teams who practice in a fixed cohort, gyms are places where cohorts mingle and transmission events across cohorts is therefore likely.

– While this may describe some gyms, small gyms like ours train in time distinct cohorts of 12 members or less.  Much like a recreational sports team our members tend to train with the same small group of people daily.  And because our membership is largely comprised of couples and families, a full class of 12 people may sometimes only represent 5 or 6 households.

– Of course, Dr. Henry’s cohort argument completely falls apart when it comes to 1-on-1 personal training which is literally the smallest cohort you can have.  Even if group training had to be stopped due to cohort transmission fears, why has 1-on-1 personal training been stopped when martial arts group classes and recreational sports teams are allowed to continue?  1-on-1 personal training clearly doesn’t fall into the risk category of transmission between cohorts or else hairdressers, RMTs, physios, chiropractors and the foot massage boutique down the street would all be required to close as well.

2) Dr. Henry says gyms are at high risk of transmission due to heavy breathing associated with exercise.

– This sounds like a fair assumption and certainly describes much of what goes on in gyms.  Except of course if gym goers are participating in weightlifting or other low intensity activities.  It also fails to explain how martial arts classes are allowed to continue.  When engaged in BJJ at the studio down the street from us, not only are you breathing hard, you are doing so literally on top of your training partner.  Unlike at the gym, in BJJ you cannot train with the recommended 2-3 metres separation.

3) Dr. Henry caps her argument with the claim that they have data showing that gyms are places with high risk of transmission.

–  Actually, throughout the pandemic Vancouver Coastal Health has posted on their website a list of businesses where COVID transmissions have occurred.  Multiple transmission events have been listed for businesses such as Cactus Club, the aforementioned BJJ studio (they are breathing heavily right in each other’s faces after all) and several boxing studios.  Who you didn’t see there were any of the local Vancouver gyms.  And yet, all those businesses cited by Vancouver Coastal Health as having documented COVID transmissions remain open for business while our gym which has recorded no transmission events is closed because we are considered at “high risk for transmission”.  You don’t have to take my word for it, here is Dr. Patricia Daly of Vancouver Coastal Health weighing in on it:

When challenged, Bonnie Henry has repeatedly declined to produce the “data” she claims proves gyms are a high risk for COVID transmission.

Want some actual data?  At Empower we have 135 members.  We train in time-determined cohorts of 12 attendees or less.  All members are required to register and sign into their class times.  Our members notify us as soon as they go for a COVID test and follow up with the test results as soon as they are received.  In the event of a positive COVID test, we contact all members who have shared the gym with them over the past 7 days and advise them to watch for symptoms.  Not once has anyone in a member’s training cohort developed COVID symptoms.  Here is actual data:

Positive COVID tests at Empower:
– Nov 21 2020, noon class (traced to social interaction outside gym, 0 transmissions)
– Feb 17 2021, Saturday open gym (traced to social interaction outside the gym, 0 transmissions)
– March 15 2021, 7am open gym (traced to social interaction outside gym, 0 transmissions)
– Mar 31 2021, noon class (traced to social interaction outside gym, Whistler, 0 transmissions)
– Apr 8th 2021, 6am class (member’s son contracted COVID at school, 0 transmissions)
– Jan 2022, out of country (traced to social interaction, France, 0 transmissions)

Rather than painting us all with the same brush and assuming we all posed the same risk despite vastly disparate operating practices, another approach Dr. Henry could have taken is to utilize the actual data available to the government and ordered closed businesses in all industries where known transmissions had actually occurred while allowing those with no recorded transmissions to remain open.  Instead, we have been branded as “high risk” and our livelihood taken from us.  Were we criminal suspects we would at least be afforded the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence until our guilt could be proven.  We would be allowed our day in court to defend ourselves before our rights and freedoms were stripped from us.  Instead, we have been trotted out like convenient scapegoats and punished for crimes we are innocent of.  Taking away a person’s livelihood and means to support a family is a very serious punishment.  Three days before Christmas, no less.

Dr. Henry would have you believe that the government is providing for gym owners and their employees during this time of closure.  In 2020 there was more government support available.  That is not the case this time around.  A $29,400 operating loss is a crippling blow for a small business to bear.  And no one seems truly aware of the inconsistencies of this order, or the lack of support gyms are currently facing.  If you would like to see gyms reopened on the 18th cast your vote in support by contacting your MLA.  If we want to survive, we will need to speak up and be heard.  You get a say in whether Empower will continue to be here for you in the future but if we don’t all speak up soon, that future looks increasingly uncertain.

What’s different this time around is that unlike previous restrictions, this time gyms and bars have been centred out and targeted independent of other sectors where COVID transmissions are rampant.  Several people just got sent home from the set my wife was working on with positive COVID tests.  These sets have 100-200 people working at a time.  That’s more than a few cohorts mixing.  In 2020 they were asked to close.  In 2022 they remain fully open.  In 2020 the various levels of government made an effort to support affected businesses.  It didn’t cover our costs but it kept us in business.  In 2022 those resources are not being made available to us.  You may feel that gyms are simply belly aching because we are losing some money and that we should just shut up and take a hit for the common good.  What is in fact happening is we are facing the imminent demise of our business.

The 2020 closures put 9 local area CrossFits out of business and closed many other fitness studios including our neighbours Path Yoga and Semperviva Yoga.  Vancouver gyms run on very tight margins.  Gym owners do not own Westside homes, drive Teslas or keep vacation homes in Whistler.  Our survival in good times is challenging.  At present time, our ability to survive has been denied us.  Today I listened to a gym owner struggling with the realization that his choices have come down to two: bankruptcy or defying the provincial health orders and resuming operations despite the threat of fines and his business license being stripped.  As he said, “What’s the difference?  Either way my business is done.”  My heart broke as he entreated us to stand with him.  “We should stand together while we can,” he warned us, “Your business may not be there yet, but eventually you will find yourself in the same circumstance as me.  Only by that time it will be too late for me to stand with you, I will already be gone like so many other gyms claimed by this pandemic.”  What about Empower?  Will we still be here by the end of this all?  You have a say in our outcome.  If you want to fight for us, let your MLA know before it is too late [email protected].

Friday WOD

Warm Up
Hit the Deck
6 rounds:
1 min Side Shuffle
1 min Forward-Backward Shuffle
When the coach calls “Hit the deck” drop to the floor and quickly rise and return to your shuffle

DU or alternatives: jump overs, step overs, penguin claps
Run or row or cycle or cross crawl march

3 Rounds:
2 mins DU
2 mins Run