How the fitness industry lobbied Trump to reopen gyms despite enormous ‘health and safety concerns’
(AFP/File / Brendan Smialowski)

It isn’t hard to figure out why health experts have been warning that public gyms could be dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic: as CNN reporters Michael Warren, Ellie Kaufman, Jasmine Wright and Caroline Kenny note in an article published this week, gyms are “filled with people sweating and breathing hard, sharing equipment and spaces.” But the CNN journalists also report that gyms are a “curious inclusion” in President Donald Trump’s plan to reopen the U.S. economy and ease social distancing restrictions — and their article explains why Trump is including them.

Last week, Trump unveiled his guidelines for “opening up America again” — citing movie theaters, churches and restaurants as places that could reopen if they adhered to some social distancing guidelines. And gyms were on the list as well.

CNN’s reporters note: “While an integral part of many Americans’ routines, gyms and fitness clubs would seem to present a particular risk for contact spread of a contagious virus…. Gyms are, in many ways, the last kind of business to prioritize during a deadly pandemic.”

But the CNN journalists cite a reason for their inclusion: lobbying from some people making money from gyms and the fitness industry.

“Their inclusion follows a last-minute lobbying push by an industry not known for flexing its muscles in Washington,” the article explains. “While not every major company was part of the effort, conversations with ten leaders in the fitness club business reveal an influential network of relationships that kicked into gear over the past few weeks and helped move gyms to the front of the line — even to the surprise of many in the industry.”

Those who were part of that gym lobbying, according to CNN, ranged from Andrew Giuliani (who is the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and owns a fitness center in Pennsylvania) to real estate mogul Steve Ross (who owns the fitness companies Equinox and SoulCycle).

One health expert who is troubled by the possibility of public gyms reopening prematurely is Dr. Saju Mathew, an Atlanta-based family medicine specialist. Mathew told CNN, “How are they going to make sure that people work out where they’re six feet apart from each other at all times? Are they going to only let people stagger in? I just have a lot of health and safety concerns. And then, locker rooms could be even a bigger issue.”