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Omicron hit fitness centers at prime time

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to work out more. (Or lose weight or get into shape.) January is prime time for fitness centers. So, the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19 is the last thing health clubs want to see.

COVID-19 has been causing problems for the health club industry for two solid years. A December 2020 ClubIntel study found that nearly six out of ten health club subscribers had no plans to hit the gym due to COVID-19. A year down the road, 2022 is looking worse. Attendance data from fitness centers for the last week of December 2021 shows that club use declined by 12% over the same week in December 2020. (When six out of ten fitness club members said they were not going back to their gyms.)

Club members are retrenching – by either continuing to work out at home or by picking up virtual classes. Omicron’s increased transmissibility is making people think twice about going out. According to recent studies, the omicron variant is about four times as transmissible as the delta variant was in early stage disease. Additionally, omicron replicates about seventy times faster in the human respiratory tract than earlier variants. Unhelpfully, it also has a much shorter incubation period. And it is better at evading the immune system. All of this means that omicron spreads much more easily, and it is going to be here for a while.

As of now, about 25% of all health clubs in the United States have closed because of the pandemic. Operators – which are mostly small businesses – do not have the capital to withstand chronically low revenues for very long.

Other fitness centers are failing as their tax dollars support WCC

The Health and Fitness Center at Washtenaw Community College is bolstered (fairly or unfairly) by tax revenues. It can outlast the pandemic (or any other economic crisis) if people can pay their property tax bills. This creates an admittedly awkward situation. While the taxpayers are busy subsidizing the Health and Fitness Center, other operators – who do not have access to an ongoing stream of public cash – are struggling to breathe. Worse, these small operators pay property taxes, which prop up the Health and Fitness Center at WCC. Their taxes go to support the taxpayer-funded WCC gym while they fight to keep their own doors open.

It is time for the Trustees to admit that asking the public to pay for the Health and Fitness Center was a mistake. They owe the taxpayers (who never authorized the HFC) an updated business plan that includes an exit strategy. Washtenaw County taxpayers should not be expected to continue to support this endeavor. (And that includes the fitness centers whose taxes also pay for this mess.)

Photo Credit: US Army Garrison Casey , via Flickr