Philly Gyms Are Closed Until January, but Owners Want to Come Back Now

Philadelphia leaders enacted stricter coronavirus restrictions Friday, halting several indoor activities including dining and closing gyms

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Days after Philadelphia enacted new restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus, some affected gym owners and employees worked out near City Hall, urging leaders to reconsider.

The restrictions that went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday halted indoor dining and closed gyms, among other restrictions. The group of fitness business owners said their outdoor workout Tuesday was a demonstration to remind the city of the financial hit they would take from the closures.

"if this continues, it will be a death blow to an already decimated industry, said Gavin McKay, a co-founder of UNITE Fitness and part of the Philadelphia Fitness Coalition that organized the demonstration Tuesday.

The restrictions last for six weeks, ending in January 2021.

"It's not just six weeks, it's our livelihoods," said coalition member Jaime Sutton of J'aime Fitness in Fairmount.

The closures come at a time when there is little aid in sight for businesses forced to close to prevent spread of the virus. In a news conference about the virus Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city doesn't have funding to provide for every business affected by the restrictions.

"That should be coming from the federal government, it should be coming from the Congress of the United States. ... We don't have it. I have a $750 million deficit and a $650 million school district deficit."

He expressed hope that the incoming Biden administration and Congress could pass a relief bill helping fund the business owners. But despite the tough effects it was having on businesses, the city passed the restrictions at the recommendation of public health officials.

The coalition said they did tracing of their members and found a small number of cases but no evidence of spread within gyms.

"For the entire time of this pandemic, we have and I have been following the advice of public health professionals, and that's what I'll continue to do," Kenney said. "All due respect to them and their data and their tracing, they are not public health professionals. And our public health professionals tell us this is the best thing to do to keep people safe."

"The more people we can keep from getting sick or dying, I think that should be the paramount issue," Kenney added.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley was also asked to respond to criticism for shutting down gyms. One of the common criticisms is that workers and members were keeping their masks on while working out, but getting shut down anyway.

"People aren't always wearing masks in gyms. Many people are uncomfortable wearing a mask when they exercise, and so it's difficult to enforce mask use," Farley said. He also referenced a PhillyMag article showing a gym with many people not wearing masks. There are also studies showing that during workouts, one breathes more heavily - releasing more droplets into the air and taking more in.

Kenney said time will tell what's to come next with the restrictions, and defended the city's decision to leave the Christmas Village open while closing the gyms and other indoor activities. Both he and Farley stressed that it was able to stay open because it was outdoors and less risk; Farley said the city would have shut down the Christmas Village, too, if it were slated to be held indoors.

"We believe that these regulations are putting people in the right distance and with masks on," Kenney said. "You can go to every single example, I mean, we could be here forever going from example to example. This is what we think, based on the science and medicine, what is the appropriate thing to do at this particular time. It could change, it could get stricter, it could get more loose after six weeks."

Farley said the way to make it through into 2021 was for everyone to do their part now and avoid gatherings, including large family Thanksgiving dinners.

"We are, in the big picture, close to the end of this. We've been through this almost nine months now. I'm very optimistic of where we're going to be in 2021. However, we need to get there safely. If we act responsibly now, we can save many lives over the next few weeks, until we get to the next phase where a vaccine is available," Farley said.

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