Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been constantly reminded that wearing a mask, staying six feet apart from others, and getting vaccinated are the key ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a co-founder and operator of TRIFIT, a health club here in Santa Monica, our experience and the data concludes that physical activity as preventative medicine is also essential to warding off COVID and many other ailments. 

According to the CDC, people who are physically active are much less likely to get very sick from COVID-19 compared to those who do little to no physical activity. And positive health benefits don’t just prevent the worst of COVID-19. Regular exercise is linked to lower risks of colon cancer, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. More people exercising and staying physically fit also lessens the burden on hospitals and local governments that bear the cost of treating people severely ill with not just COVID-19 but a whole host of other health conditions.

It’s for these reasons that I join many of my colleagues in the fitness industry in our concern that Los Angeles County health officials may return the county to mandatory indoor masking – including in indoor gyms and fitness centers – and how this will deter both loyal members and newcomers who are looking to improve their health. 

We saw during the early days of the pandemic what the closures of gyms and fitness centers meant to our communities. Physical and mental health deteriorated across the country. And even when we were able to reopen, fewer people came to gyms and fitness centers because mask mandates made working out more challenging.

Let me be clear: Masks are a critical tool for public health and mitigating the spread of COVID. What we fear are additional mandates that will deter our customers from visiting gyms, attending fitness classes, and living healthy lives.

Finding a safe, quality place to work out has already been made more challenging by the pandemic, which shut down our health club for nearly a year in 2020 and 2021 and forced more than a third of gyms and fitness studios in the state to close permanently.

As a member of the California Fitness Alliance, the organization representing our state’s fitness operators and professionals, we fought hard to reopen gyms and fitness centers – and most importantly reopen with new COVID precautions that allowed our customers to work out in a safe and healthy way. And the precautions worked – between 2020 and 2021, TRIFIT did not a single case of COVID-19; not one staff member, instructor, cleaning crew, or member outbreak had occurred at TRIFIT.

Public health is paramount, but it needs to be viewed in context as part of a larger healthy ecosystem. The mental health implications these prolonged shutdowns have had on our fitness communities has been devastating. The fitness industry has been politicized as a super-spreader of COVID, even though all the evidence to date belies this notion.

We understand that our public officials have difficult jobs and must balance a variety of public health, societal, and economic factors into their decision making. What we in the fitness industry simply ask for is fair consideration given our contribution to public health and the economy.

If the decision is made to reinstate a countywide indoor mask mandate, we ask not for any special treatment, but for similar accommodations provided to other businesses. Just like consumers at restaurants and bars are allowed to remove masks while eating or drinking, we believe it is only fair to allow Angelenos doing vigorous exercise at gyms to also be able to remove their masks.

Like everyone else in the communities we serve, we want to keep people safe. And by making reasonable accommodations, we believe we can do just that by providing people the opportunity to live healthy and happy lives.

Gina Baski is the co-founder and operator of TRIFIT LA, an independent family-owned health club in Santa Monica.