IHRSA Letter to U.S. Governors: Gyms Are Vital, Keep Them Open

    With a shift in presidency and coronavirus cases rising, IHRSA is being proactive, contacting every U.S. governor to ask that they keep health clubs open and explain how clubs can be part of the solution.

    Now that the U.S. election is final and COVID-19 cases continually rise globally, IHRSA is taking further steps to ensure that health and fitness clubs remain open in the coming weeks and months. Since it is, in fact, governors and local-level administrators who make the determination on whether or not to close businesses—particularly during a pandemic—IHRSA is sending a letter to every U.S. governor to inform them of the importance and safety of health clubs.

    The health and fitness industry is vital in maintaining national health and wellness. A lot has changed since the last letter IHRSA sent to each governor—the goal then was to reopen health clubs and now we’re aiming to keep clubs open through the surge. It is possible—and paramount—for fitness facilities to stay in business amid the pandemic. In states such as Colorado and Massachusetts, health clubs have successfully remained open despite the growing number of cases and have had a minuscule amount of COVID-19 cases in the club.

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    In the most recent letter to all 50 U.S. governors, IHRSA asserts that clubs and local officials can band together to protect the public with fitness facilities’ commitment to safety protocols and unique ability to assist in contact tracing. Moreover, staff members of health and fitness clubs can complete a contact tracing course provided by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to train and effectively take on this role.

    After states and state governors exercised their power and shuttered clubs during the height of the pandemic, it became clear that health and fitness clubs were not getting the recognition they deserve—as a vital resource to maintain overall health and well-being. Closing clubs also underlined the need for the fitness industry to strengthen our collective political voice by uniting operators.

    IHRSA has worked closely with many IHRSA members and industry leaders to reopen or keep clubs open during the pandemic. Because of the dire circumstances brought on by COVID-19, IHRSA recognized that many clubs do not have the tools or experience in lobbying or advocating government officials. We took an abundance of resources, tools, and documents for club operators to advocate for and support the fitness industry and put together a toolkit, How to Run a Fitness Industry Alliance in Your State.

    These actions are small steps necessary to keep clubs open and defer government officials from passing harmful laws or legislation. In the most recent effort, IHRSA personalized and sent the following letter to all 50 U.S. governors to show that health and fitness clubs are a critical piece of the puzzle in getting—and keeping—the nation healthy.

    IHRSA’s Letter to U.S. Governors

    November 9, 2020

    Dear [Governor Name],

    On behalf of the more than [X number] health and fitness clubs we represent in [state], we applaud your concern and desire to safeguard the health of your citizens from COVID-19.

    We, too, are in the business of keeping our fellow Americans healthy. It is, quite literally, our life’s work. While we fully appreciate the seriousness of COVID-19, we firmly believe that health and fitness clubs are part of the solution, not the problem, and therefore, must remain open.

    While much still remains unknown about COVID-19, the assumption that health and fitness clubs are either a primary driver of new infections or an inherently high-risk environment for new infections does not stand-up to the data.

    There is substantial data that America’s gyms and health clubs, when following safety protocols can operate safely.

    • A case control study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to have dined in a restaurant or have had a close contact diagnosed with COVID-19. There was no statistically significant association between COVID-19 test results and visiting a gym.
    • A survey conducted by MXM of 2,877 health and fitness clubs, reports a mere 1,155 COVID-19 cases out of 49.4 million check-ins from June through August, an occurrence rate of 0.002%.
    • Data collected as part of an ongoing study at the University of Florida found no detectable SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) in the air during multiple testing periods at a health club in Florida in which patrons were following state guidelines and appropriate social distancing measures.

    Contact tracing per state bears this out as well.

    • Louisiana releases tracking data on COVID-19 cases by setting. Of twenty reported settings, ranging from automotive to religious gatherings, gym/fitness centers rank 15th out of 19 in COVID-19 cases. Well behind settings such as bars (#2), casinos (#4) and restaurants (#5) and even behind office settings and religious gatherings.
    • Colorado has released contact tracing data linking outbreaks to settings. Of 22,527 total cases linked to outbreaks traced, they have found 862 cases linked to bars and restaurants, 705 cases linked to offices, but only 4 cases resulting from a single outbreak linked to health clubs or fitness centers in Colorado.

    As outlined above, the data showing club check-ins vs. reported cases and data from Louisiana and Colorado contact tracing, suggest health and fitness clubs have not been higher risk locations than other businesses for transmission of COVID-19. Rather than closing clubs, we request that you look to health and fitness clubs as partners during this pandemic. The country’s health and fitness clubs and their millions of employees are focused on their critical role of promoting and maintaining the mental, physical, and social health of the nation. Evidence shows that physically active lifestyles can improve immune system health and diminish the risk of contracting some communicable diseases, including upper respiratory tract infections. A study conducted in the United Kingdom on the link between lifestyle factors and COVID-19 showed that obesity and decreased physical activity were linked to a higher risk of contracting severe cases of COVID-19. In a newly released pre-print, researchers used genetic markers to assess obesity, alcohol use, lifetime smoking, and physical activity. They found a two-fold increase in risk of respiratory COVID-19 and COVID-19 hospitalization for people with obesity and lifetime smoking, and a five-fold decrease in risk of respiratory COVID-19 for people who were physically active. Health and fitness clubs, through the promotion of mental and physical health, are an integral part of the solution to returning citizens to a state of good health.

    Additionally, health and fitness clubs are uniquely positioned to help their states, by conducting accurate and efficient contact tracing. The club business model revolves around access control. Clubs use a check-in system, which allows them to identify who is in the club, as well as the date and time they visited. Unlike most other businesses, health and fitness clubs know precisely who is in their facility, and how to contact them. This contact tracing ability should make clubs an ally in states’ efforts to keep their citizens healthy and safe during these challenging times.

    Protecting the public and our employees and preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a goal we share with you. If we put aside assumptions and follow the data, we see a consistent story, showing that health and fitness clubs operating under appropriate guidelines, such as those now in place, are not high risk environments for the spread of COVID-19. As sites of preventative health interventions, health and fitness clubs are allies in the effort to restore the health of Americans and must remain open.

    Sincerely,

    Brent Darden
    IHRSA Interim President & CEO

    Author avatar

    Sami Smith

    Sami Smith is IHRSA's Communications and Public Relations Assistant. On a typical day, she delivers communications and creates content for IHRSA's advocacy efforts, while working to shape IHRSA and the fitness industry's public image on multiple platforms. Outside of the office, you can find her traveling to new areas, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.