FILE - Gym, health club

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s latest COVID-19 mitigations greatly reduce the number of people allowed in a fitness center at one time and appear to forbid popular indoor group activities like spin classes, yoga and CrossFit sessions just as Illinois’ temperatures drop. 

Pritzker’s latest mitigations that take effect Friday reduce gym capacity to 25%, require strict face-covering policies, reservations, and ban locker room use. 

It also bans “indoor group classes” that appear to include many popular activities like yoga, stationary bike sessions, or functional training sessions commonly called CrossFit. 

The order comes days after Pritzker received multiple letters stressing the value of physical fitness and health. 

The Chicago Medical Society, representing more than 17,000 health care professionals in Cook County, wrote to Pritzker earlier this month, strongly suggesting any new mitigations not result in fitness center closures. 

“Health clubs and fitness centers are an important piece of health care and well-being for anyone, particularly as we head into the holiday season and days are getting shorter and the weather colder,” it read. “When adhering to public health guidelines, data demonstrates that health clubs are safe environments right now, which is important because prioritizing health and fitness is more essential than ever.”

Vishnu Chundi, chairman of the Chicago Medical Society's COVID-19 task force, said Wednesday the mitigations are meant to “flatten the curve” of rising cases that Illinois is seeing but the order also recognizes the importance of physical health. 

“Exercise and having some outlet is important but the question is how safe it is,” he said. “You can make it as safe as possible but it’s not zero-risk. The reward of having exercise, improved physical and mental and immunity health probably outweighs it but it only outweighs it if the incidence isn’t as high as it is right now.” 

Chad Hobbs, owner of The Factory and The Athlete Factory in Bloomington-Normal, spoke to The Center Square Tuesday, hours before the new orders were released, about his facility’s prospects under a new closure order. 

“I’ve been happy to follow the guidelines because it’s our responsibility as a business to do that,” he said. “I think we could get through it but I can’t speak for every gym. Everybody’s different.” 

His facility has not seen outbreaks of COVID-19 even though he said they’ve had members become infected. He credits his staff’s rigorous sanitization and his facility’s large overhead doors that allow for proper air circulation that helps keep members safe while staying fit.

“There’s a host of issues that come with not working out,” he said. “There’s no dispute that it helps with mental health as well as physical health.” 

Hobbs said Wednesday that he, along with other area gym owners, was still reviewing the latest order. 

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, Illinois had 1,346 health clubs patronized by more than 2.9 million residents. The IHRSA wrote to governors across the country on Nov. 9, asking for them to consider the health benefits of fitness centers. 

“The country’s health and fitness clubs and their millions of employees are focused on their critical role of promoting and maintaining the mental, physical, and social health of the nation. Evidence shows that physically active lifestyles can improve immune system health and diminish the risk of contracting some communicable diseases, including upper respiratory tract infections.”

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Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.