Fitness facilities in Williams Lake were scrambling to follow provincial health requirements last week after a new mask mandate appeared March 31 in the latest health update from government.
The latest restriction states: “Masks must be worn at all times including while exercising,” and also requires gym visits by appointment only, and for patrons to be three metres apart if movement is occurring.
As of March 29, fitness centres had also been forced to cancel group fitness classes, however, individual fitness training was still permitted without the use of a mask as long as patrons were appropriately spaced out.
The Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex posted an update to its Facebook page and issued an e-mail to patrons earlier this month noting it would now be requiring all patrons to wear a face mask while using the fitness centre.
“We appreciate your continued cooperation as the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex maintains a safe environment for all patrons and staff,” the update stated.
Ian James, director of community services, said staff have been notifying guests of the policy change prior to them entering the fitness centre area. He noted the pool and arena are not impacted by the policy change.
Fit City Athletica in Williams Lake, which operates as a 24-hour facility, has also amended its regulations.
“We hadn’t heard anything about this latest update,” said Fit City Athletica manager Kourtney Thompson. “So we’re following the latest and we have to respect that.”
The gym has also had to modify its 24-hour access to daytime-only use to accommodate mandatory appointments.
“Staff need to be present so we can monitor who is coming and going,” she said.
Thompson noted Fit City has extended its daytime hours to try to accommodate peak gym times from Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“So far people have been really, really understanding,” she said. “I just feel really bad for all of us. All the gyms in town are excellent.”
At Concrete Fitness, manager Jayden Nohr said they were also blindsided by the change in policy, adding they will be looking into how to handle bookings.
He said he does have safety concerns surrounding patrons wearing masks while exercising — especially while lifting heavy weights or those wishing to engage in higher-intensity workouts.
“I feel like we’re getting to the point of unsafe,” Nohr said. “So we have to look at what we’re going to do. There’s no spotting allowed now, either … we need spotters — we squat racks, we have a deadlift platform and benches. We’re meant for lifters.”
Kim Colgate, owner and trainer at Re4rm Fitness, added it’s utterly disheartening.
“We’re not set up as a gym. We’re functional training. We just recently completed our third renovation to comply with health orders and now all the renovations we did just won’t work because we just don’t have the room to space people out three metres again now that that’s changed,” Colgate said.
“I’m frustrated, and I guess I’m just going to hang out and do what I can.”
In response to the Tribune’s questions about mask safety while exercising, Ministry of Health Senior Public Affairs Officer for COVID-19 Marielle Tounsi said throughout the pandemic public health and government have made every effort to support businesses to remain open and operating safely when possible.
“To this end public health have developed requirements to allow for indoor exercise to continue, provided measures for preventing COVID-19 transmission are adhered to,” Tounsi said, noting following orders of B.C.’s provincial health officer, masks are required in many other indoor public settings and all retail stores — including sport or fitness facilities.
“Gyms and recreation facilities that offer individual workouts and personal training sessions can remain open as long as they have a COVID-19 safety plan that is strictly followed.”
The order issued March 29 by the Provincial Health Office was originally scheduled to be in effect until April 19, however, the order has since been extended into May.