Why Gyms Should Be Considered Essential Businesses

The coronavirus pandemic has put a new emphasis on essential businesses, or those that should be allowed to remain open for the good of the public, such as grocery stores, banks, utility companies, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and even daycare centers. But not everyone agrees on what constitutes an essential business.

Local, state, and federal officials have shuttered many stores and facilities while leaving others open, and these guidelines can vary widely across the country. For example, some states deemed liquor stores an essential business, but is drinking during the pandemic really considered “essential?” That same has been true of marijuana dispensaries, gun and ammo stores, video game vendors, craft and office supply stores like Staples and OfficeMax.

The term “essential” can be surprisingly subjective. If you like to have a glass of wine at the end of the day, you may see your neighborhood liquor store as vital. The same can be true for those who like to hunt and fish or play video games to pass the time. So, how do you weigh the risks of keeping these stores open with the potential good of letting them resume their operations?

The answer isn’t always clear. However, one thing everyone needs is exercise. That’s why we believe gyms and fitness centers should be considered essential businesses. Here’s why:

Clear Safety Regulations

Every essential business should follow the latest safety regulations, including social distancing, having everyone wear a face mask, and limiting occupancy for indoor spaces. However, these guidelines aren’t set in stone. Some companies and states have been more adamant about enforcing these policies than others, which only adds to confusion.

Let’s take Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, as an example. It has nearly 1,900 stores nationwide with over 350,000 employees. The retail outlet sells everything from food and medicine to electronics, housewares, and back-to-school supplies. There’s no denying that many people see Target as an essential business, but the company doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to public safety.

Back in April, the company released a press release outlining its efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It reads, “Target will provide all team members in stores and distribution centers with high-quality, disposable face masks and gloves to wear at the beginning of every shift and strongly encourage that they be worn while working.” Let’s focus on the last part, “strongly encourage.” This means employees aren’t required to wear face masks while on the job.

The press release also says, “Target is continuing to provide guidance to encourage its team members to practice healthy hygiene habits, as recommended by the CDC.” Again, the company is letting employees and shoppers make these decisions for themselves, even though their actions could affect the public at large.

Once inside a Target, you will see signs and stickers on the floor reminding customers to practice social distancing, but there is no one there to enforce the policies.

Both Target and Walmart came under fire after saying they would not release information regarding infections and outbreaks to the public. Walmart, the largest private employer in the nation, confirms that it has seen cases in “some” stores across the country, but leaves confirmations up to local health officials. Target released a similar statement. The company said it would report any new infections to staff members and then deep clean the store, but it won’t share this information with state and local officials.

While Target and Walmart are and should be considered essential, they need to do a better job of keeping the public safe. Gyms and fitness centers are generally much smaller than these superstores, which helps them maintain social distancing instead of leaving customers to their own devices. Unlike Target and Walmart, gyms have rigorous cleaning and safety standards to prevent transmission of the virus. Staff members and customers wipe down individual pieces of equipment before and after each use. In fact, many people were doing this before the pandemic.

The equipment can easily be spaced apart to prevent large gatherings. Exercise is often an individual activity, so you won’t likely see large lines and crowds at your local gym, just those exercising quietly by themselves.

Keeping the Public Healthy

Everyone needs food and medicine, but the same can also be said of exercise. Physical activity is vital to our health, especially when it comes to keeping the virus at other serious conditions at bay.

The U.S. is still in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Poor diet and excessive weight gain can increase the chances of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, all of which are considered risk factors for complications with COVID-19.

The Department of Health and Human Services makes it clear that “Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day.” They say adults should get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. HHS also recommends muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

For many Americans, exercising outside isn’t enough. Some individuals, including seniors and those with disabilities, need access to a gym to complete their workouts. Many people do not have the money to invest in a home gym. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for cardio machines and weight training equipment at a gym.

Health officials are urging the public to assess their local gym’s safety measures before heading inside, as every facility is different. High-risk individuals, including those with underlying conditions, may be better off working out at home. But for the rest of us, going to the gym may be just as safe, if not safer, than visiting the local grocery store.

If you believe gyms should be allowed to stay open during the pandemic, sign the “Make Fitness Facilities an Essential Business” petition. We need 100,000 signatures by October 16, 2020 to get a response from the White House.

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