If you’re an Ontario resident concerned about COVID safety, consider hitting the strip club this weekend instead of the gym.
As the province moves forward with its re-opening plan, many gyms are also opening their doors. But as public health experts warn that gyms have a high risk of COVID transmission, one of the province’s biggest chains has angered some members with its vaccine policy.
GoodLife Fitness, which has over 300 branches across Canada including more than 80 in the Greater Toronto Area, said on Twitter Wednesday that it will not require staff or visitors to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“At this time, we are not planning to require Associates or Members to be vaccinated to enter our locations,” the tweet read.
Many people have pointed out the stark contrast between GoodLife and Filmores, a Toronto strip club, which announced this week that it will ask patrons for proof of at least one COVID vaccine before letting them in.
“We want our staff to be safe,” entertainment manager Kaspar Cameron said Tuesday.
Many Twitter users, including financial writer Gail Vaz-Oxlade, said they would cancel their memberships at GoodLife.
Political figures like Gerald Butts, former advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Toronto city councillor Norm Kelly also criticized the move, making reference to the risk of virus exposure.
As GoodLife pointed out on Twitter, their decision not to check vaccination status is in line with provincial rules. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that the province will not make vaccines mandatory.
“I think it’s our constitutional right to take [the vaccine] or not take it,” Ford said. “I’ve been out here for months, begging, pleading [for] everyone to get it, but no one should be forced to do anything.”
Gyms pose a threat of COVID transmission more than other indoor activities for several reasons, Jeffrey Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto who specializes in air filtration and indoor air quality, previously told Healthing. Gyms generally don’t require people to wear masks when they work out, they’re often poorly ventilated, and people stay in an enclosed environment for a long time — longer than they’d stay in a grocery store, for instance.
Some experts expressed hesitancy around the safety of gyms — four COVID experts recently shared on Twitter their lacklustre enthusiasm over gym openings.
There have been several documented super-spreader events originating from workout classes: one in Hamilton, Ont. last October before the vaccine rollout and another in Quebec City this March. Sixty-nine cases were linked to the gym in Hamilton, even though it had followed all of the province’s health guidelines. In Quebec, 224 people were infected, and one person died.
As of July 9, 35 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, and nearly 70 percent have received at least one dose. But it’s still difficult to assess the risk level, which varies according to a number of factors — size, ventilation system, air flow, ceiling height, whether or not windows are open.
“We can’t expect the public to follow all the latest science and so they’re going to go about their lives based on probably what’s open or not,” Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech who specialized in airborne transmission of viruses, told CBC News.
“And if they see that the gym is open, they’re going to assume that it’s safe.”