'Doesn't make sense': Whitehorse gym owner bristles at COVID-19 potential exposure notices

·3 min read

As Yukon health officials investigate a flurry of new COVID-19 cases, one Whitehorse business owner says he feels his establishment is being unfairly singled out as a potential exposure site.

"Since March, we've had 40,000 check-ins through this facility. There's three cases that are linked to us," said Jim Oster, owner of Better Bodies, a gym in Whitehorse.

"So you know, I just don't understand that our name gets [dragged] through the mud."

Last week, health officials identified Better Bodies as one of several potential exposure sites associated with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Whitehorse. The exposure notice listed specific time periods and advised people who had been in those places at those times to get tested if they develop symptoms.

Another potential exposure notice for Better Bodies was issued a couple of days later along with the announcement of more new COVID-19 cases. A third potential exposure notice for the gym came over the weekend.

Oster voluntarily closed his business for three days to do a "deep cleaning" before a planned reopening on Tuesday morning.

He said he's heard from people saying he should shut his business down during the pandemic, but he considers his facility an essential service for people's mental health.

Wayne Vallevand/CBC
Wayne Vallevand/CBC

"To be honest with you, I don't really care about somebody sitting on their couch eating chips or whatever, reading Facebook and pretending that they're experts on everything," he said.

"We're talking about a less than one per cent infection rate, and we're telling people not to be healthy, not to be active? To sit in their house and don't do anything? It is absolutely ridiculous."

Oster said his business has followed all public health guidelines throughout the pandemic, keeping gym equipment well-spaced and disinfecting it often.

"I mean, you walk into the building, it smells like bleach."

Oster said any potential COVID-19 exposure is not the fault of his gym. He said people need to take more responsibility for themselves.

"There are people that work out together. They drive down here in the same car. They walk in, we're supposed to separate them, then they leave and they jump back in the same car and go to the same parties and hang out together," he said.

"That doesn't make sense to me, how we can be picked, that we're the exposure site, and these people hang out together."

'Better to be safe than sorry'

Meantime, other Yukon businesses are also dealing with potential COVID-19 exposures after months without any new cases in the territory. Since Friday, there have been 12 new cases confirmed in Yukon, and two more were considered probable cases on Monday.

Sam Taneja, owner of Tony's Pasta & Seafood House in Whitehorse, said he also decided to shut down for four days of cleaning after his restaurant was identified as a potential exposure site one evening last week.

Taneja said Friday it was a tough decision to temporarily close and lose some lucrative bookings, but it was about "social responsibility."

"This is the busiest time of the year, and we were pretty busy," said Taneja. "It's better to be safe than sorry. That's all I think. Money is not everything."

Yukon-based airline Air North also issued a potential exposure notice, associated with two flights in mid-November between Whitehorse and Vancouver.

Submitted by Air North
Submitted by Air North

Passengers in certain rows on those flights were advised that they were at risk of exposure to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

"You know, generally speaking, the health professionals seem to regard this as fairly low-risk for passengers or crew," said Air North president Joe Sparling.

"But we felt it was appropriate to notify passengers in the affected rows and put a notice on our website."