Philly’s coronavirus response

Philly’s allowing fitness centers to reopen, but some gym owners are wary

“I wish they had given us more time,” said one operator.

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Instagram / Philly Hot Asana
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Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley announced Thursday that gyms and fitness centers in the city can reopen starting Monday, July 20. This brings Philly in line with statewide regulations.

Small gym and yoga studio owners who spoke to Billy Penn are unsure about the decision.

“I’m still in shock,” said DanceFit studio owner Bria Moss-Wilkerson, “especially with the news of the upticks around the country right now.”

There are “very strict restrictions” for any gym that reopens, including:

  • Mask-wearing 100% of the time people are inside the building
  • At least 6 foot of distance maintained between patrons
  • A limit of 10 people for any classes

City health officials are still encouraging people to exercise outdoors when possible.

“Our biggest concern around the gyms is that when people are doing vigorous aerobic exercise, it’s very uncomfortable to wear a mask,” Farley said, adding that “gym owners may not want to enforce that.”

Enforcement is going to be stringent, he said. Though the health department has never done gym inspections before, it plans to conduct pop-up walkthroughs without warning, as well as to address complaints. (Call 311 if you want to report unsafe procedures.)

If gym-goers aren’t wearing masks during inspections, or other health safety precautions aren’t being followed, the fitness center will be shut down, Farley said.

Additionally, if the city notices widespread failure to cooperate with guidelines or increased COVID-19 cases that may be attributable to gym-going, the city is prepared to walk back the reopening, Farley warned.

Why open gyms and still not allow indoor dining? “It’s impossible to keep a mask on” in a restaurant, Farley said, if you want to eat or drink.

That might also be the case with some forms of exercise. For Philly Hot Asana owner Janielle Lucas, asking her clients to wear a mask throughout practice just isn’t feasible. She has a process with her one-on-one clients and small groups.

“Once they get in the yoga room and they’re on their mat, they have to take their mask off. Otherwise, you can’t breathe,” Lucas said.

Farley noted that the coronavirus is not thought to spread through perspiration, so sweaty people in gyms isn’t the issue. It’s breathing and talking, and the respiratory droplets those produce, that is considered to be the main transmission source of SARS-CoV-2.

“For those people who find it difficult to do vigorous exercise without a mask, don’t go to the gym then,” the health commissioner said.

Originally, gyms were scheduled to reopen in early July.

In preparation, Moss-Wilkerson bought no-touch thermometers and joined her DanceFit team to mark socially distant spaces on her Chestnut Hill and Fishtown studio floors. At the end of June, the city reversed plans to reopen gyms.

“I know a lot of studios purchased equipment or hired people back,” Lucas said of the previously scheduled reopening. “So it’s making it way more challenging for us to prepare to open. I wish they had given us more time.”

Lucas, of Philly Hot Asana, plans to opt out of ever resuming her studio’s traditional operations. She’s transitioned her yoga studio to a members-only model instead, allowing a small but trustworthy number of yogis and instructors access to the brick and mortar with their own key.

She’s also just launched virtual franchise operations that give people access to her content library and other systems so they can run their own mini hot yoga studio from anywhere.

Gyms and indoor fitness centers were among the list of activities set to reopen even after the city’s gradual “green” phase, based on their COVID-19 risk. Still not yet allowed to reopen are in-person conventions, indoor theaters, indoor dining and outdoor events with more than 50 people. On Tuesday, Philly banned all large scale events on public property until at least February 2021.

“To be quite honest,” said Moss-Wilkerson, “I’m still a bit uneasy. Above all, as a business owner, as a person, I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s life being upended because they get COVID.”

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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