Editor’s Note: This story was updated with new information Tuesday evening.
A day of confusion for Denver gym and fitness studio owners ended Tuesday with their COVID-19 operating status right where it began, but not without hours of high anxiety.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that Denver gym owners can continue to operate at 25% capacity even though Denver is moving to new restrictions due to recent increases in COVID-19 cases. At a news conference Tuesday morning featuring Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Health Department director Bob McDonald, the fate of gyms and fitness studios was left unclear.
Under Safer at Home Level 3 restrictions and guidelines developed by the state, gyms are not allowed to conduct classes indoors and are limited to virtual classes or outdoor classes in groups less than 10. But in the news conference, McDonald said it was too soon to say whether gyms will be included in the new restrictions.
“We’re taking a look at that right now, talking with the state health department, considering that particular venue,” McDonald said. “I don’t know that it’s going to be included in all of the metrics and restrictions that you’ll see in Level 3. I think at this point, what I can say is, more to come on that. We’ll see what decision the state makes along those lines.”
Much of Tuesday, Denver gym owners wondered what that meant. Late in the afternoon, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment offered more information.
“We’re not going to enforce the order until we get more clarification from the state,” said Tammy Vigil, DDPHE manager of media relations. “Gyms can continue to operate under the previous order. We’re waiting on the state to give us an answer.”
That came with the CDPHE announcement Tuesday evening that it was updating the order “to provide greater flexibility” to gyms that are in counties at Level 3 restrictions.
Still, it was a tough day for Denver gym owners whose businesses have been barely hanging on, even while allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. Danielle Barbeau, the owner of The River Yoga’s two Denver studios, was frustrated to be left in suspense after the mayor’s news conference.
“This is so typical for how this has gone, every time, for us,” Barbeau said while waiting for answers. “It’s totally unclear. I reached out to the group of studio and gym owners; everyone seems a bit in limbo. I definitely feel in limbo.”
Barbeau believes state and local authorities have been more concerned about keeping restaurants and bars in business than gyms and fitness studios.
“We are requiring folks to wear masks and maintain social distancing the entire time they’re in our space,” Barbeau said. “It feels to me like the way we’re operating is actually safer than being able to sit across a table with someone without a mask on for an extended period of time in a restaurant. That is really the clincher on my frustration.
“The other point is that we know that, not only are we in a health crisis, but this is a mental health crisis, too,” she continued. “Fitness facilities, yoga studios like mine, are providers of a healthy outlet for managing the stress and isolation of the moment. To feel continuously overlooked when we are contributing in a positive way is very frustrating.”
Denver has lost several major players in its local fitness industry since the pandemic began, and some gyms say they are barely hanging on. A closure could have dealt the final blow.
“From what I understand through talking to my peers, there are many who have not gotten additional funding outside of the PPP loans,” said Danielle Barbeau, owner of The River Yoga, with locations in Golden Triangle and Five Points. “We’ve been hanging on by a thread. I feel like we’ve been overlooked, and that we’re looking at some really tough decisions and some long months if we don’t get some additional assistance soon.
“For yoga, we have the advantage of not needing a lot of equipment, but I really am concerned about my friends who have spin studios or Pilates reformers, equipment that’s hard to replicate at home unless you have a bike or a reformer,” she said.
“I feel like last man standing in lots of ways.”