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Gyms and fitness facilities across B.C. wait to see if they'll reopen Jan. 18

B.C. Ministry of Health states, fitness activities generate these aerosols and can lead to rapid transmission

Fitness facilities across B.C. are anticipating reopening on Jan. 18 as a provincial mandate ends.

In late December, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry introduced new restrictions, including the closures of gyms and other fitness centres, as the province saw a surge in Omicron cases. 

This Tuesday is a much-anticipated time for gym-goers and fitness facility owners who hope that the mandate will not be extended, despite hints from Henry that some mandates included in that same announcement may very well be.

When the "indoor event" closure was announced, one petition requesting more data transparency gained traction across the province.

The petition, launched by Samantha Agtarap, co-owner of Engineering Bodies Strength & Strengthening in Port Moody, pleads for the B.C. government to share data about places of transmission.

In the petition, Agtarap writes that a disconnect exists in implementing decisions, noting that religious gatherings continue to stay open while chain and independent gyms are forced to shut down.

"Gyms have significantly modified operations to keep their clients as safe as possible, and the vast majority have not experienced any cases of transmission or significant outbreaks over the past two years," the petition states.

As of Jan. 16, the petition has gained 49,303 signatures.

Over the winter holidays, people took to social media to express their frustrations with the gym closures, often questioning the logic behind malls staying open over gym closures.

Rapid transmission through the air

The main reason for closing gyms and other fitness facilities is the rapid transmission rates of the Omicron variant, compared to its cousins like Delta.

And while experts continue to understand whether Omicron is entirely airborne, the known fact is that this variant travels quickly and easily from one individual to another.

Glacier Media reached out to the B.C. Ministry of Health to clarify why gyms are considered at higher risk for Omicron transmission than malls.

"COVID-19, including the Omicron variant, is spread by the respiratory droplets an infected person produces when they breathe, cough, or talk. Fitness activities generate these aerosols and can lead to rapid transmission," said the B.C. Ministry of Health in a statement to Glacier Media. "The order applies regardless of any ventilation system that a gym or fitness centre has in place."

Adequate ventilation is crucial in bringing fresh air and preventing the transmission of Omicron. As a result, outdoor exercise is still strongly recommended versus any indoor event. This is because the virus can linger in the air people breathe indoors and where ventilation is not optimal, according to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer.

Despite the mandate to close gyms across the province, some fitness facilities have chosen to defy COVID restrictions.

Iron Energy Fitness Centre in Kelowna lost its business license and was fined $2,300 for defying the closure order.

"We are open, and members are still working out. We know that we are doing something right, and that is why we are standing so strong. The only way that I'm closing this gym down is if they drag me out in cuffs. All of the members are going to get it on tape and Canadians are going to see it. I want that," co-owner Brian Mark told Castanet.

Other fitness facilities like kickboxing gym 30 Minute Hit stated on Facebook they were opening their locations in Langley, Cloverdale and White Rock at 50 per cent capacity. The gym said it was doing so with permission from the Fraser Health Authority because they fall under Sports, which claims that sport activities that "normally take place in a sport environment can continue."

In a statement to Glacier Media, the ministry stated, "indoor events include a gathering of participants for the purpose of adult exercise or fitness activity or class."

The operators of 30 Minute Hit in Langley declined to comment.