One of the safest places to be during the coronavirus pandemic outside of home has been your local gym.

Of the 50,283 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts between Nov. 22 and Dec. 19, only 20 could be linked to “recreation or cultural facilities,” a designation that includes gyms, fitness clubs, yoga studios and indoor recreation facilities. That’s .00039%. (While we’re running numbers, it’s worth noting the vast majority of confirmed cases during that time -- 46,534 -- came from households.)

So why are state and local officials tightening restrictions for gyms when the science says its not necessary -- and when people are increasingly turning to their local YMCA and other fitness centers to manage their health during the pandemic?

Last week, the Baker administration lowered occupancy limits for gyms and fitness centers to 25%, a move that will last into the new year -- and beyond, if the recent surge in coronavirus cases statewide doesn’t abate. Boston and a handful of other communities have closed fitness spaces completely -- despite the lack of evidence they are contributing to the spike, or any explanation as to why they were included.

“From the Y’s perspective, we’re advocating from the sense that there’s no data to back up the closure of gyms,” Charity Lezama, executive director of the Salem YMCA, told reporter Dustin Luca. “We haven’t had one case trace back to us, so we’re looking at it as if the gyms were to close, it’d dramatically restrict community resources.”

The Salem Y and its counterparts across the region have been religiously enforcing mask and spacing requirements, and closing frequently for deep cleaning. Their members have been partners in the endeavor, making the necessary sacrifices for the opportunity to help protect their long-term physical and mental health. 

“The word ‘community’ has taken a body blow during the pandemic, because being together as a community is really what people are discouraging us from doing,” said Judith Cronin executive director of the Greater Beverly YMCA. “Our foot traffic has increased every week. We feel people believe in our ability to keep our facility safe and clean, and we’ve heard anecdotally through all our member feedback that that’s how they feel we’re doing.”

As we head into the new year, the Baker administration needs to either relax its latest restrictions on fitness facilities, or explain why it’s not following its own data. 


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