Connecticut is a national leader in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as most recently demonstrated by Gov. Ned Lamont’s appointment as co-chair of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Pandemic and Disaster Response Task Force. As we continue the phased roll-out of vaccinations in 2021, I’m ready to do what’s best for our state until everyone is vaccinated and COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. Based on what we now know about infection rates and transmission, it is more apparent than ever before that gyms, fitness centers, and the physical and mental health benefits of exercise are essential to help our state get through the months ahead.

Since the pandemic started and lockdowns began, there has been a continued increase in sedentary lifestyles and a rise in depression. Meanwhile, the CDC has said that adults with obesity and other medical conditions as well as people of color are at an increased risk of severe illness from the virus.

Fortunately, leading healthcare experts have made it clear that gyms are “a part of the solution, not the problem.” Former Deputy Surgeon General Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu said fitness centers “provide affordable access to exercise, a critical tool in fighting COVID-19 and the devastating impact it has had on our country’s physical and mental health.” Similarly, the thousands of doctors represented by the Chicago Medical Society called for gyms to stay open as lawmakers considered other shutdowns, citing gyms as an essential service and critical public health benefit for frontline workers and others

The data clearly shows that COVID-19 is spread in “close contact” business establishments and social gatherings, not in gyms and fitness centers. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revised his COVID restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and other businesses in December 2020, he shared new data released by the state showing that gyms account for 0.06% of infections with a known source. “Gyms are one of the lowest-known spreaders now,” he said, and data from other states and countries tells a similar story.

Since re-opening Planet Fitness facilities in Connecticut on June 17, we have had nearly 2,130,897 total check-ins among more than 168,675 total members with no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in a Planet Fitness club. Additionally, our clubs have been inspected many times since re-opening, and we’ve had zero health code violations.

The fitness industry has gone above and beyond COVID-19 health and safety regulations to ensure a safe atmosphere for residents to work out. For example, at Planet Fitness, we’ve implemented effective protocols since re-opening that include mask mandates for all employees and members, sanitization every 20 minutes, increased distancing between workout equipment, capacity limits, and temperature checks for staff members. In addition to touchless check-ins and COVID-19 screening questions, our Planet Fitness App also provides a “crowd meter” that allows members to check the club capacity in real-time before leaving the house. We’ve even purchased electrostatic sprayers that emit a mist of FDA-approved anti-viral chemicals to disinfect our equipment – just one part of the deep cleaning we do in every club every night.

We view gyms and fitness centers as an essential business and part of the overall healthcare solution. Governor Lamont and his team have done an extraordinary job to date, adding a mask mandate for all gyms and staying firm on keeping us open. While the job is far from over, we must continue to remain vigilant to keep everyone safe and keep gyms and fitness centers open in Connecticut. Our whole mission is to help people stay healthy and fit – both physically and mentally – and that mission is more vital now than ever.

David Humphrey is CEO of ECP-PF Holdings, owner/operator of 32 Planet Fitness gyms in Connecticut.

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