Fitness industry tightening regulations while keeping anxious eye on COVID numbers

·3 min read

Some gym and yoga studio owners in Newfoundland and Labrador have taken extra steps to keep people safe this week, knowing they could be among the first to close if the province moves back a level.

Heather Murphy, owner of Islander Athletics, watched with approval Monday as Premier Andrew Furey withdrew the province from the Atlantic bubble.

With cases on the rise in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, she decided to post a new rule for her gym in St. John's — anyone in contact with a person who has travelled within the Atlantic provinces is asked to stay away for two weeks.

"We've taken it an extra couple steps further and I know that's on us," Murphy said. "I've seen a lot of other studios doing the same kinds of things to really try and prevent a second closure from happening."

Gyms and fitness studios were ordered closed in March, and remained shuttered for in-person sessions until late June.

It was a devastating blow for many of the small gyms in the province, and Islander Athletics was no exception. They used the break to change locations, with hopes of reopening in a better place.

What saved them was the family they'd built within their membership, she said.

John Pike/CBC
John Pike/CBC

Murphy checked out all of Islander Athletics' equipment to the members and shifted to online classes. People went home with everything the gym owned. In exchange, she managed to keep much of the customer base throughout the downtime.

Now, with small spikes in cases around the province, people like Heather Murphy are again watching the daily updates with anxious eyes.

A pair of small towns are dealing with outbreaks, and as of Wednesday afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador had 25 active cases. The school district reopened an elementary school in Deer Lake on Wednesday, after a student tested positive earlier in the week.

More than 30 kids in the child's class cohort tested negative.

John Pike/CBC
John Pike/CBC

Moda Yoga owner Jill Holden said the actions business owners are taking to prevent the spread are not just about business — they're about doing the right thing.

"I think we all have a social responsibility to act from a place of kindness and compassion, but not just for ourselves," she said. "That's really what we're about in the yoga practice. We don't just act for ourselves, but for the greater good."

Holden's studio has policies simliar to ones in place at Murphy's gym. They've tightened restrictions in recent days, after outbreaks in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick collapsed the Atlantic bubble.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced Tuesday that all fitness and recreational facilities, libraries, museums and casinos would close for two weeks. Restaurants are open only for takeout.

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Andrew Furey says he wants to avoid that tangle.

"We don't want to have to close our businesses here. We want to protect the freedoms we've come to enjoy, while in line with public health measures of course. We want to avoid a full lockdown that we are seeing across the country," he said at Wednesday's briefing.

"We want to ensure that the local economies can continue to operate as much as possible."

Measures put in place by the provincial and federal governments helped small businesses like gyms and fitness centres survive the last lockdown.

Holden said she'll oblige any restrictions put in place but she doesn't want to have to rely on those subsidies again.

"It was difficult and thankfully we got through it," she said. "Having to go through it for a longer period of time again, I'm not sure that's really viable in the long run because these subsidies we've been taking advantage of have been really helping, but I know that won't last forever."

Newfoundland and Labrador recorded only one new case on Wednesday, and both Holden and Murphy hope the spread is slowing and a second lockdown isn't in the cards.

"It's hopeful," Murphy said. "I'm optimistic we'll be able to avoid it."

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