Opinion: Gym shutdowns during pandemic are damaging Oregonians’ physical and mental health

Jim Zupancic

Zupancic is the chairman and chief executive of Stafford Hills Club and the board president for the Oregon Health & Fitness Alliance.

As we approach the 11th month of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are only just beginning to see the significant long-term impacts that prolonged shutdowns and restrictions on vital wellness services are having on the social, emotional and physical health of Oregonians.

Fitness facilities across the state continue to hear emotionally charged pleas from our members who are desperate to return to their wellness routines in any limited capacity. They include members like Tim Zenker in The Dalles, who has Parkinson’s. Before the first shutdown, he could walk one to two miles unaided, thanks to aqua therapy. But due to the prolonged closure of pools, his mobility rapidly declined, requiring him to use a wheelchair. We have heard from disabled veterans like John Kramer of Sandy, who relies on workouts to help manage his post-traumatic stress disorder. The shutdown of gyms – one of the only outlets available to him and other veterans – is sending them into mental health crisis, he said. And we have heard from others – young people working at home, parents charged with homeschooling, and youth from vulnerable communities who are begging to return to their fitness routines in order to maintain their mental health during one of the most challenging years our generation will endure.

As leaders in the health and fitness industry, we cannot stand idly by while our members suffer the impacts of long-term shutdowns of the vital services they need access to. For this reason, the Oregon Health & Fitness Alliance sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown last week asking her to consider allowing for a limited, safe reopening of indoor fitness facilities. We provided specific recommendations such as decreased capacity limits, mask mandates, and physical distancing requirements to help protect our members.

We know that these types of precautions work. A recent study by the University of Oregon’s Oregon Consulting Group for the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association showed no correlation between fitness facilities and COVID-19 cases based on a case study in Colorado. And a recent study in New York found that of 46,000 COVID cases, only 0.06% could be traced to gyms. In Oregon, of the more than 11,000 COVID cases that have been reported in association with workplaces, not a single publicly reported outbreak has been traced to a gym or fitness facility.

Fitness facilities and gyms are in the business of health and wellness. We are not asking to reopen in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic – we are asking for a limited reopening of indoor fitness facilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that our facilities are safe. We have taken the necessary precautions to keep our members safe and the lack of outbreaks traced to gyms shows that those precautions are working.

Gyms and fitness facilities want to be a part of the solution to improve the long-term physical and mental health of Oregonians, so we have asked Gov. Brown to tell us if there are additional steps we can take to further ensure the health and safety guests at our facilities. We will do whatever it reasonably takes to ensure we are allowed to provide the vital health and wellness services that our members need during these challenging times. Please join us in asking Gov. Brown what we can to do allow for a limited reopening of indoor fitness facilities in all Oregon counties. We must protect the health of all Oregonians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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