BROCKTON — For health and fitness centers, the beginning of a new year is always the busiest time as people make resolutions and head to the gym looking to better themselves.
In Brockton, that won’t be possible — at least at the turn of the year — as gyms are one business that were forced to close last week.
Mayor Robert Sullivan voluntarily rolled Brockton back to Step 2 of Phase 2 in the state’s reopening plan, going one step further than Gov. Charlie Baker, when he recently returned Massachusetts to Step 1 of Phase 3.
Sullivan said the decision was made because “COVID numbers are escalating at a rapid pace.” The city’s infection rate continues to rise and is approaching early pandemic levels, when the city was a top coronavirus hot spot in Massachusetts. The city saw 1,047 new cases the last two weeks for 75.4 per day per 100,000. Of all residents who were tested, 9.33 percent were positive during that period.
Brockton has only reported a higher average daily incidence rate over any two-week period three times since the pandemic began. From April 18 to May 5 — the height of infection in the city — the average daily incidence rate per 100,000 was 98.83, 105.96 and 84.07.
Because of those numbers, Sullivan joined at least five other communities and filed an executive order to revert Brockton to Step 2 of Phase 2 as of last Wednesday.
“It’s going to be in effect for three weeks, but I do reserve the right to extend it if I need to based upon the metrics and the data,” Sullivan said.
That rollback will last until at least Jan. 6 and forces the closure of indoor fitness centers and health clubs, including gyms, museums, event spaces, theaters, arcades and recreational facilities and prohibit bar seating at restaurants.
Gyms have been one industry publicly speaking out against the mayor’s voluntarily rollback.
“I think overall, first and foremost our position is fitness is essential — it’s safe and it should remain open,” said Bill Whelan, a Planet Fitness franchisee.
Planet Fitness says there is “no evidence” of COVID-19 cases being transmitted at any of their 75 locations in Massachusetts. There have been more than 3 million check-ins since the state reopened after its initial lockdown and the gym says only .001125 percent of check-ins have later tested positive “with zero evidence these cases originated in the gyms.”
Whelan said Planet Fitness worked with both Massachusetts and Rhode Island in establishing COVID-19 safety guidelines at gyms.
“We changed everything,” he said. “We increased sanitation flags, added extra sanitizing stations, additional staffing, introduced a crowd meter mobile app so people can go on and see usage and implemented touchless check-in to reduce contact between staff and members. Instead of physical distancing, we came up with social fitnessing and have those signs up for people to keep 6 feet or more between each other. We’re obviously requiring that everyone wear a mask.”
Whelan said the three-week closure is going to affect Planet Fitness at a crucial time for the business.
“That is our busiest time of the year — not just for member usage but for member joins because people want to start fresh,” he said. “It is critical to our business.”
Planet Fitness said it is trying to retain as many team members as possible during this time and move them to other locations, but the business can only keep as many people as it can afford without as much income.
“Fitness is essential,” Whelan said. “We’ve proven that it’s safe and should remain open.”
Sullivan said he’s heard from many gyms and members but doesn’t plan to change anything in his executive order at this time.
“I’ve gotten an influx of people really upset about the fitness centers,” he said. “I’m not saying that the virus is spread in gymnasiums or fitness center. What I’m trying to say is, we’re in a surge right now, so for the next three weeks — my executive order is in effect for three weeks — we need to try stay home. We should not congregate. We are hopeful that the mechanisms in place will help limit the spread.”
Sullivan said he’s not targeting gyms, but trying to limit opportunities for the coronavirus to spread.
“We need to really limit social, nonessential gatherings,” he said. “Our hospitals are almost at the highest capacity they’ve seen since the spring. I understand what businesses are going through, but we need to limit contact. We want people to stay home.”
Senior reporter Cody Shepard can be reached by email at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter at @cshepard_ENT. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.