gyms closing toronto

Toronto gym owners say their facilities are safe and shutdown is unfair

After the Ontario government announced the immediate shutdown of gyms and inside dining at restaurants, fitness club owners are worried about how they will keep their businesses running in the coming weeks.

In what is being referred to as Stage 2 Lite, Peel, Toronto and Ottawa regions will see indoor dining at bars and restaurants banned once more, and gyms, movie theatres and casinos will close for at least the next month.

The announcement came after Ontario recorded its highest ever number of cases since the beginning of the health crisis at 939 cases. The City of Toronto also banned several indoor recreational spaces and activities on Friday.

Lara Marquez said the gym's closing would be devastating for her business. The founder and owner of Drop Boxing near Queen and Spadina said they are struggling.

"It's just about staying afloat, we’ve had to incur thousands of dollars of cost just to be able to pay for all of the PPE in order to create a space that is very safe for our clients and every single one of our clients is monitored upon entry," Marquez said.

Marquez said not a single person touches anything without it being cleaned immediately. And she believes it's been working. After "extensive protocols and costly measures," there haven't been any cases from her studio.

"What has been proven is how essential group fitness gyms are to mental health. Where is the value in that?" asked Marquez.

During the first shutdown, Drop Boxing offered online classes at a small fee to try and meet some of the costs such as rent and hydro, and many staff members were working for free to maintain the studio.

"I don’t know how to make it with the current limited financial support provided by the government. What is my staff going to do? How will they pay their rent? What is the government prepared to offer in financial support in order to allow us to keep our team together and to re-open our doors when they say it is safe to do so? And will that only result in another shutdown?" 

More than one-third of recent community outbreaks in Toronto specifically have been linked to bars and restaurants, with popular establishments like Yonge Street Warehouse, Sotto Sotto and Regulars Bar among those who have publicly confirmed infections among staff (though not required to by law).

Select retail stores and gyms have also seen new cases.

However, the data isn’t much and there is nothing concrete that suggests that there is a strong link between gyms and COVID-19 cases, said Dan Novak the founder of Elite Martial Arts. He said the shut down is completely "unwarranted and not fair at all."

Novak said he hates that they're being labeled as a hotspot especially in comparison to other businesses with higher rates of COVID-19. 

"You don't read about the mass outbreaks you know maybe a case here and there, but that's gonna happen at every business. It's inevitable. I'm talking like full-fledged dangerous outbreaks." 

With one lockdown, Novak said he barely got through and now has to work for free and dip into his savings but with the upcoming lockdown, he doesn’t know how he’ll manage.

"We followed every, every single protocol, we've gone over and above before we even started teaching...We’ve done nothing wrong," said Novak. "So that's what hurts me as not only a business owner but as a person, it's really arbitrary."

Morgan Thomas, the general manager at Sweat and Tonic agrees and has found that the biggest challenge is the lack of data and transparency from the government which makes it hard for the businesses, individuals and members to understand.

"No one seems to be able to find data that directly correlates fitness facility to public cases decisions that are being made," said Thomas.

"We're not being asked to be part of our conversations. And this information isn't being shared with us. So we're just sort of blindly following the regulations rather than really being able to buy into the decision."

Like other places, Sweat and Tonic has put a lot of time and resources into upgrading their facility with hospital-grade air ventilation, temperature checks, hand sanitizers at every turn, mandatory mask requirements except when actively working out, social distancing, a 40 per cent reduced capacity and plexiglass dividers in between all the stations. 

"We've really gone above and beyond the provincial government regulations in terms of what's actually required to keep people safe. And if there was data that showed up regardless of all of these changes then we would certainly jump on board," she said.

"But we haven't seen that data, and no one is giving it to us so I just don't think that we should have been required to shut down."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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