Are gyms open or closed under Colorado's new COVID restrictions?

New state health guidelines for gyms in Colorado counties that fall into the Level Red “Severe Risk” category may be workable for big-box athletic clubs, but they could deliver a death blow to small boutique studios already teetering on the brink due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said gyms in Level Red counties would have to cut their occupancy to 10% of maximum capacity. Many already were barely hanging on at the previous limit of 25%.

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“It is frustrating to feel like gyms and small boutique fitness studios seem to be a second thought during a lot of these press conferences,” said Kristen Baylis, owner of a Pure Barre studio in Lakewood. “Going to 10% will be extremely difficult for us. We have operated at a loss every month since we re-opened in June. In October, we lost $8,000 due to 25% capacity, and that was with wait-listed full classes.”

For Baylis 25% means 9-10 people at a time in the studio, and 10% of capacity is only 3-4 people.

“The costs to operate right now are staggering, and membership numbers decline as people face their own financial struggles, health concerns and virtual schooling,” Baylis said. “I’m not sure it makes sense to even stay open.”

Jen Sevcik, who owns Duality Fitness in Denver, called Polis’ remarks about gyms “very deflating,” and said small boutique gym and studio owners are now asking themselves whether they can keep their doors open at 10%,

“We support our leaders, and we understand the numbers have gone up,” Sevcik said. “We watch them every single day. We want to be part of the solution and the positive trend, but we also stay very committed to the fact that our facilities provide a solution and not part of the problem in terms of mental and physical well-being during a pandemic.

“With all of the measures we have had to implement to remain safe and healthy, and all of the screenings, we have not had any disease transmission,” Sevcik said. “We have had no outbreaks. We’ve been operating under a very safe scope since we were allowed to open. So 10% for us might as well just be closing our doors. It would cost us more in payroll than we would be bringing in.”

Several gym operators formed the Colorado Fitness Coalition in September to advocate for the industry with government officials. JoAnna Masloski is a member of the coalition’s advisory board and chief operating officer for the Colorado Athletic Club, which has seven Front Range facilities. Its parent company owns gyms in six other states. She is grateful the state is allowing gyms to remain open, even at reduced numbers.

“We’re really grateful that the governor, his team, the counties, the health departments, have been so willing to try to balance the science, the data, and the critical importance of physical and mental health,” Masloski said. “We’re not having that in all of our states. Whatever it is, capacity or reservations or other things that need to happen, we are a safe business. We can do the things above and beyond that most industries can’t do.

“I think they’re recognizing, ‘Hey, we want to help businesses stay open,’ ” Masloski said. “We’re just grateful that they continue to work with us. We’re willing to work on anything within reasonable, sustainable business that we can do to continue serving Coloradans.”

During the press conference, Polis made a comment in passing that implied gyms could be included when the upcoming special session of the legislature addresses financial aid to restaurants, bars and other small businesses.

“I am very anxiously awaiting more details on that,” Sevcik said.

Some boutique owners say they don’t get as much consideration from the state as restaurant owners.

“Restaurants can still provide take out and delivery,” Baylis said. “While gyms can offer their classes virtually, it is difficult to maintain the price point that we need to pay our overhead for a virtual offering when there are many free and very inexpensive virtual offerings available from companies that have much lower overhead and no brick-and-mortar location, which comes with high rent and payroll.”

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