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Fitness-related COVID-19 rules flummox many

Adults cannot be in gyms, but those under age 18 can. Walking on the TCC track is permitted, but running is banned. Meanwhile, basketball games can proceed on the adjacent courts
Dr. Bonnie Henry1
Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer for British Columbia.

More questions are being raised about a public health order shuttering fitness facilities across British Columbia, including why it is safe for youth to lift weights — but not adults.

In Kamloops, gyms at the city-owned Tournament Capital Centre and Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre continue to operate, but are only open to youth ages 15 to 18.

The city’s recreation supervisor, Linda Stride, said the public health order applies to adults only, which is why those gym facilities remain open for youth, those ages 18 and under. For the city gyms, paying adults must accompany those ages 12 to 14. Because adults are not permitted in gyms, per the public health order, city gyms are now restricted to those ages 15 to 18.

Other gyms can also open to those under age 19, but many, including at the Kamloops YMCA-YWCA, have simply closed while the order remains in effect.

However, the hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas at the TCC, in Westsyde and at the Y remain open.

The Ministry of Health confirmed exercise and fitness programs for youth are allowed under the order. It said in a statement to KTW that “regular physical activity for children and youth is important for healthy growth and development, including mental health, bone health and cardiorespiratory fitness.”

A similar argument has been used by gym owners in Kamloops who have been calling on the province to deem them an essential service. A handful of local gyms have defied public health orders, staying open and being hit with fines.

Stride said the city is already staffing the TCC Field House and track, noting no extra staff are being utilized to open the gym for those allowed to use it — people ages 15 to 18.

Stride said the indoor track has remained open for people to walk, but running is prohibited. Indoor drop-in sports like basketball, which includes running, continues in the centre of the track for people of all ages. Fitness classes, however have been cancelled.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that sports have been allowed to continue because they typically bring the same group of people together, which contains spread of COVID-19 to within a defined group of people, if someone participating is infected.

“On the other hand, fitness and exercise facilities typically bring many different people together on an ongoing basis, who would not normally interact, which can result in many unconnected people potentially being infected, who many then further spread the virus to their contacts,” the government statement reads.

However, the owner of one Kamloops gym that remains open has said his facility has not been a source for transmission. Justin Grover, co-owner of No Limits Fitness, pointed to a lack of statistics provided by health officials in deciding to shutter gyms in B.C.

KTW has twice requested the numbers upon which the decision to shutter gyms was based and has to date not been provided with those statistics.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said its decisions are guided by “science, prudence and care and our commitment to stopping the spread of COVID.” It pointed to three scientific articles in support of its decision:

• Outbreak of COVID-19 at a fitness centre in Saskatchewan (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/reports-publications/canada-communicable-disease-report-ccdr/monthly-issue/2021-47/issue-11-november-2021/outbreak-covid-19-fitness-centre-saskatchewan-lessons-prevention.html), published by the Public Health Agency of Canada in November 2021;

• COVID-19 Outbreak Among Attendees of an Exercise Facility - Chicago Illinois, August-September 2020 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7948936/), published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health on March 5, 2021;

• Epidemiological Characteristics of COVID-19 Outbreak at Fitness Centres in Cheonan, Korea (https://synapse.koreamed.org/articles/1146132?viewtype=pubreader), published on Aug. 5, 2020 in the Journal of Korean Medical Science.

The government statement also pointed to comments made by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a Jan. 4 COVID-19 media briefing, at which she was quoted as saying: “I can’t tell you every single case that’s been linked to a gym, but we can tell you that we’ve seen this as a pattern, that these are environments that are higher risk and when there’s a lot of transmission in the community, particularly in that age group, so the age demographic that is going to gyms that is highly connected, so there are people who are younger who are also more social or working, have children.

“We know these transmission links are happening and it’s spreading into higher risk settings. These gyms are doing everything right in many cases, but the reputable ones understand that they’re not going to put their staff and clients at risk when we’re seeing the amount of transmission that we’re seeing right now.”

The next COVID-19 briefing is on Friday, Jan. 14, at 11 a.m.