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No Vaccine, No Workout: It’s Happening in British Columbia, New York, San Francisco

August 26, 2021 by
Photo Credit: ActivateHealth (instagram.com/bccdcfoundation)
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On Tuesday, the province of British Columbia introduced a province-wide COVID-19 vaccine passport, where proof of vaccination will be required in order to attend various non-essential businesses, including restaurants, bars, sporting events, and gyms. B.C. joins two other major U.S. cities, New York and San Francisco, both of whom recently announced similar policies. San Francisco’s vaccine passport for indoor activities, including gyms, came into effect on August 20, while New York City will begin enforcing theirs on September 13.

The details in B.C: On September 13, patrons will have to show government-issued proof that they have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to workout at a gym, and by October 24, they will be required to show proof of being double vaccinated. 

B.C as a case study: Gym owners throughout the province of BC say that whether or not the mandate will help or hurt their business depends on where you live in the province and the attitudes towards the vaccine in their particular area. 

  • Gym owners in the Vancouver area—the province’s biggest city, which accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total population of the province’s 5.1 million—are generally supportive of the vaccine passport mandate, as vaccination rates are particularly high in and around the city. Two affiliate owners from Vancouver, for example, estimated that more than 95 percent of their clientele have been double vaccinated.
  • However, those in other health regions in the province—from the Island to the Interior to the Fraser Health regions—are more concerned the measure will have a negative impact on their business.

What they’re saying in Vancouver: Jesse Bifano, the owner of CrossFit Squamish, located outside of Vancouver, but still in the Coastal Health region with Vancouver, said he thinks the mandate is a “non-starter” for his particular community, as he estimates close to 97.5-plus of his clientele are double vaccinated.

  • “All I can do is speak to the experience of my community…that being said, we did have one person who is anti-vax who did say when it comes into effect it’s the end of the road for them. They were really nice about it, and I was like, ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but that’s fair,’” Bifano said. In terms of rolling it out, Bifano is hoping it will be as simple as checking everyone’s vaccine status once, putting a check next to their name and “never talk about it again,” he said. 
  • Similarly, Chris Saini, a 15-year coach at Madlab School of Fitness in Vancouver thinks the policy will “actually be good for business,” as their community is pretty much entirely vaccinated, thus the mandate will help them all feel that much safer, Saini explained.
  • Simon Damborg, the owner of Raincity Athletics in Vancouver, is also largely supportive of the measure. “I appreciate that this is our only chance to actually end the pandemic and I applaud (the government) for finally dropping the hammer,” he said.
  • Troy Straith, the owner of CrossFit BC in Vancouver, agrees: “I’m disappointed that we’re not past this by now, but I am in support of the government’s mandate requiring vaccination to train in gyms. It goes a level higher in keeping our staff and members safer…We have told our members that we will expect proof of vaccine as required,” Straith said, adding that most of his members are indifferent as they are vaccinated; however, he has had a few cancelations already because of it. 

What they’re saying outside of Vancouver: An affiliate owner in the interior health region, who wished to remain anonymous on the polarizing topic so as not to divide their community, sees the mandate as just another shot to small businesses.

  • “The government is once again throwing small businesses under the bus for the choices of the public,” they said, adding that they have a diverse clientele ranging from the double vaccinated to anti-vaxxers. Either way, it leaves the business owner in a precarious position likely to harm them either way. “The way I see it is we have two options: enforce the passport and alienate those that aren’t yet comfortable getting vaccinated, or ignore the passport and alienate those that feel everyone should be vaccinated regardless of their personal beliefs,” they said. “Not to mention, the legal impact of ignoring the guidelines and facing another potential shutdown.”
  • Nate Beveridge, the owner of Hybrid Athletics in Langley, B.C., located in the Fraser Health Region just 45 minutes outside of Vancouver, said he is simply “not a fan of the need for me to be (my clients’) vaccine police.” While he is vaccinated, he has “many members” who are not. “Our community is split on this much like the greater community as a whole,” he said, adding that he can count as many as 12 people that he knows of that they will have to turn away once the mandate comes into effect on September 13. “Between their personal training and group fitness sessions we will essentially be saying no to $8,000 to $9,000 per month in re-occuring long-term revenue. That is a big hit for a small business,” he said. 
  • Over on Vancouver Island in Victoria, Cam Birtwell, the owner of CrossFit Vic City is also concerned about the new policy. “Gyms also are not typically retainers of individual health information on a large scale.  Yes we may have notes about injuries or significant illnesses that pertain to what we do, but those are typically volunteered by the member and shared with the relevant coach,” Birtwell said. As a result, Birtwell doesn’t intend to comply. “I don’t plan on asking for confirmation of vaccination.  I feel strongly that monitoring of symptoms and minimizing exposure are the best and least invasive options,” he said. 
  • “I don’t suspect this will help the business in any way,” added Alana Parrett, the owner of CrossFit Nanaimo on Vancouver island.
  • Finally, an affiliate owner from the Fraser Health region added: “I want everyone to have equal opportunity to maintain their health and fitness regardless of their views on the vaccine…If forcibly enforced, this will have a negative effect on my business. If I can find a way not to comply, I will,” they said.

The Bottom Line: While British Columbia, New York and San Francisco are some of the first places in North America to require double vaccinations in gyms, like other COVID guidelines and mandates—from lockdowns to mandatory masks—vaccine passports in gyms could become another trend. And depending on the beliefs and vaccination status of the individual gym’s community, the mandate is likely to polarize the situation even more. In some cases, it might help the business, but in other cases it’s likely to harm the business, divide communities, and ultimately negatively affect overall health.

  • “Tensions are running high. We want the gym to be a place where people can come to help their mental health, and forget for a mere moment, the stressors they are facing,” said an affiliate owner in B.C. who wished to remain anonymous. 
  • Bifano added: “We don’t want to talk about politics or religion or Donald Trump or COVID…The gym is supposed to be a place where people can get a reprieve from the rest of the world…I just want to coach.”

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