Why are gyms closing yet again?

Graphic by Sarah Morassutti

One thing you have probably heard at least once during these early days of 2022 is “New year, new me.” The New Year is seen as a time for a fresh start — a time for people to reflect on what went wrong and what went well as well as an opportunity for people to figure out how they can further improve themselves in the coming year.

A 2020 study by researchers from universities in Sweden and the UK found that the most popular new year’s resolutions involve physical health and weight loss. You may have heard your friends say they want to “get big” or “hit the gym” this year. Exercise and physical activity can improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. Not to forget, for us UW students, exercise can be a much-needed opportunity to get away from the everyday stresses of a busy academic schedule. 

While this is all great, the majority of us who were looking forward to a “new me” in 2022 (myself included), tuned into CP24 just three days into the new year to see Premier Doug Ford announcing that gyms are closing down until at least Jan. 26 due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the province.

No more working out at PAC. No more late-night soccer games with my friends at the new indoor fields at CIF. Considering we are in the coldest months of the year, exercising outside is a challenge. I had big fitness goals for the 2022 year, but just a few days in, they are being put on hold.

Over the last two years, we have had the chance to learn so much about the COVID-19 virus itself. Vaccines, social distancing, masks, capacity limits and sanitization have all been proven to be effective methods of reducing the spread of the virus. We have learned that quarantining after contracting the virus can also limit the spread. CIF and PAC only accept students who are fully vaccinated and both gyms have implemented social distancing measures, mask mandates, and capacity limits. Additionally, UW spent the first year of the pandemic improving ventilation systems across campus — an important measure for reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission indoors. 

Many people have pondered why gyms continue to be closed after a sudden rise of cases even with all of these practices in place. Some have insisted that going to the gym is a “coping mechanism” for what has gone on during the pandemic.

Furthermore, a 2020 study at a fitness center in Oslo, Norway found that with good hygiene and physical distancing, there was no increased risk of COVID-19.     

To add to this, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has made it clear that COVID-19 is most severe for older adults and people with multiple or severe health conditions. Most students are younger adults, who generally have the lowest cases of long-term medical conditions. With the right measures in place, it is highly unlikely CIF and PAC gym-users will contract a severe case of COVID-19. For students or faculty members who do have additional health concerns, double masking and continued sanitization of gym equipment can further reduce the spread of COVID-19. With all of this information, it is obvious to me that gyms and fitness centers should open ASAP.

Online classes, not being able to see our friends in person and gym closures have been difficult for UW students. Not only have these factors impacted our physical health, but they have also worsened our mental health. Opening CIF and PAC would allow students to continue to engage in consistent physical activity and also provide opportunities for students to take breaks from their classes, which would improve mental well-being. These gyms are such an important part of the student experience and student wellness here at UW. It is becoming clearer that with the right measures in place, CIF and PAC won’t significantly increase the spread of the virus. So then why are these vital student facilities closed?

We are two years into this pandemic. So much research has been done to prevent and limit the spread of the virus, but we are living the same way we were when the pandemic began. It is time for CIF, PAC and fitness centers across the province to open up.