Vancouver –

Gyms, fitness centres and dance studios reopened in B.C. Thursday after being shuttered by COVID-19 restrictions for nearly a month.

The decision to shut down the facilities sparked widespread outrage and in some cases, blatant defiance of the public health order.

Many people fiercely advocated for the reopening, arguing that the closure was detrimental to British Columbians’ physical and mental health.

But it won’t be business as usual at facilities.

Starting Thursday, adult indoor individual, group fitness and dance classes are now allowed with increased safety protocols.

Those include capacity limits based on maintaining seven-square meters of space for each client.

In addition to that, all group fitness and exercise classes have a capacity limit of 25 people.

Masks must be worn at all times, except when actively exercising, though health officials are encouraging people to continue to wear them while they’re working out.

The model was presented to Dr. Bonnie Henry and her public health colleagues by the Fitness Industry Council of Canada. President Sara Hodson said it’s a combination of safety measures that were in place at certain points through 2021.

“A lot of the spacing simply is what it was before July 1,” Hodson said. “British Columbia has actually been a leader across Canada. We have had fitness open for the most days during this pandemic. Other provinces have really looked at the way we have developed the guidelines and how we have been able to keep our fitness businesses open and safe.”

“We know now that this virus is transmitted through the air, so really, it’s very difficult to say any environment is safe. I would still say gyms are a higher risk environment. What it really comes down to now is an individual’s risk tolerance,” said Dr. Michael Brauer, a professor of the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health.

Pre-bookings for drop-in individual fitness will be required at most facilities.

Proof of vaccination through the B.C. vaccine card QR code is required for entry.

“Love being back with the community, with my trainer. It’s to me so important to get out and exercise for my mental health, I work from home, I feel isolated all the time,” said Alex Cattoni.

Cattoni said it was a little intimidating to get back into it after being off for several weeks.

“It’s been a month because who works out over the holidays? Then came back and actually got COVID, started showing symptoms on Jan. 1. So you know, had the best intentions of starting the year strong, recovered and then now I’m back at the gym. So I’m feeling very good to be back,” Cattoni told CTV News.

She said she was disappointed that her gym was closed for so long.

“To be honest, I sort of felt frustrated because those of us who have gotten vaccinated and listened to the rules and have done all of that so that we can continue living our lives. The closure was frustrating, I understand that precautions need to be taken to keep everybody safe. But at this point, I sort of feel like you know, we’ve all done our part,” she explained.

Cattoni is a regular at the Firm Athletica in Vancouver, which specializes in personal training.

A steady stream of people filed into the gym the minute the doors opened Thursday morning.

“Everyone’s just super excited to get back,” said co-owner Paul Chung.

Chung said the uncertainty of the past few weeks has taken a toll on he and his business partner, but also their staff.

“There wasn’t much I could do. So you know, you just try to make the best of the situation. But financially, for sure, there was a lot of, you know, I lost a little bit of hair over this time,” said Chung.

He says he was disappointed about the closure, but is relieved to be up and running once again.

“Truth be told, the measures that they put in place on Tuesday or encouraged us to, we were already doing that before,” he explained.

Those measures include enhanced cleaning and physical distancing.

“As far as flow of people coming in and out, we just make sure that people are only coming in for their session. They’re not coming in early, and really just trying to minimize the amount of sort of congregating or sort of traffic sort of coming and going, or minimizing that,” said Chung.

On top of the pre-booking systems, some gyms will also be implementing time limits to ensure that as many people as possible can workout safely.

Businesses are reminding clients to plan ahead. 

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