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Gym owners frustrated they can’t reopen, worried about future

Bryan Rief, a co-owner of 44 Planet Fitness franchise locations in Michigan, told  lawmakers on July 29 that gyms could safely reopen.

(The Center Square) – After 4.5 months of forced shutdown in most of the state, gym owners say they can reopen safely.

Over 40 states have reopened gyms and fitness centers, Bryan Rief said, a co-owner of 44 Planet Fitness franchise locations in Michigan.

Before the shutdown, Michigan had over 1,000 gyms serving over 1.5 million customers, Rief said, which employed more than 150,000 employees who are either furloughed or laid off.

Rief presented a survey from the California Fitness Alliance survey from June 12 through July 13 that only .002 percent of 5.5 million gym visitors reported a positive COVID-19 case.

Planet Fitness has 1,450 facilities open as of this week.

From May 22-July 21, .000741 percent of customers reported a positive COVID-19 case or one in every 135 thousand check-ins, Rief said.

“The clear message here is that gyms aren’t spreading the virus,” Rief told lawmakers Wednesday.

Rief said people with obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes are 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19, diseases which can be prevented or eased through exercise.

Those diseases contribute to some of the top causes of death.

In 2017, more than 647,000 died of heart disease, 599,000 died from cancer, and 160,000 died from chronic lower respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York Times reports about 150,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19.

“We believe very strongly that fitness is essential to flattening the curve … and to keep it flat,” Rief said.

Alyssa Tushman, the owner of Burn Fitness in Clawson, Livonia, and Rochester, said fitness owners started their businesses because they cared about other people’s health.

The gym owners said they’ve taken precautions, including:

  • Planet Fitness will require masks starting Saturday
  • They use CDC-recommended cleaning chemicals,
  • They’ve marked off machines directly next to each other and closed water fountains

But they’re still not allowed to reopen, despite Rief presenting a 95-page game plan of safety precautions.

“I don’t even know how we’re scraping by after 4.5 months … we owe back rent, two of our landlords are working with us, and one is suing us,” Tushman said.

Tushman said that the industry hasn’t been part of the conversation regarding reopening, a million-dollar question for small business owners.

“My entire world, my entire financial present, past, and future rides on this,” Tushman said. “And moreover, it’s about helping people so that we can become a more healthy population and prevent a lot of deaths in the future.”

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Tuesday there were 78 COVID-19 outbreaks in the last week.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 31 percent associated with nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • 22 percent were associated with social gatherings
  • 10 percent were associated with workplaces
  • 9 percent were associated with restaurants
  • Other places included childcare, agricultural work settings, bars, personal care services, and gyms (in regions six and eight of Michigan)

An outbreak is defined as an index COVID-19 case that is spread to another person, Khaldun said.

Rief said that exact gym data wasn’t available to them.

He added that business owners just received their property tax bills for buildings they legally can’t use to generate revenue.

“It’s 4.5 months today that we’ve been shut down and [there’s] no end in sight in terms of when we can reopen,” Rief said.

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