Yes, It's Time To Close Your Gym
We had a plan in place from the moment that the Novel Cronovirus that causes COVID-19 was a thing. I'm a world-class worrier, which took me years to turn into being a world-class planner. (Yes, I have 2-weeks worth of meat in my freezer and no veggies, I'm not perfect.)
I wrote a post last week outlining all the steps we were taking, including "over communicating" with all of our members. If you are a gym-owner, steal it, use it, make it your own. But be sure that you read all the way to the end where we CLOSED THE GYM ALMOST A WEEK AGO NOW. We are still the only gym in Seattle to close, which is honestly appalling to me. (And, in the last hour, this has changed. YAY, people are closing!)
Seattle is the epicenter. We have a member who is a speech path who told us a story about their wing being shut down and turned into an ICU because the regular ICU was out of beds. And speech paths are being retrained as CNAs to care for people in the new ICU. My husband is an officer in the Fire Department, literally has this thing in his face all day, and they are running out of masks. Literally being asked to reuse masks.
Oh, and people are dying. Many more will die before this is over.
AND IT SPREADS THROUGH SOCIAL CONTACT. Not just things like licking, fucking, and sharing food. According to this article in Prevention, "A preliminary study published this week found the virus could be detected in the air for up to three hours after it was aerosolized with a nebulizer, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel."
You know what else nebulizes a virus in the air? HEAVY BREATHING. I did Francy at home yesterday and was more aware than ever of how heavily, and forcefully, I breathe when I'm working out. So you walk within 3-6 feet of where I was just telling Francy how much I hate her and there ya go.
It spreads BEFORE you have symptoms, that's why it's spreading so well. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, "In SARS, it took 7 to 10 days after onset until peak RNA concentrations (of up to 5x105 copies per swab) were reached. In the present study, peak concentrations were reached before day 5, and were more than 1,000 times higher." So, NO, this isn't "just like the flu" and telling people who feel sick to stay out of your gym is pointless.
You know what works to slow the prevention? Social distancing, that's it. THAT IS ALL WE HAVE. So let's look at the role of social distancing in past epidemics, shall we? How 'bout the 1918 flu. When the flu pandemic hit Philadelphia, they dilly-dallied social distancing, going about life as normal for 2 full weeks before taking drastic social distancing measures. Schools stayed open, they even had a parade in the midst of it, to boost morale. St. Louis, on the other hand, the moment the flu came to town, immediately after their first confirmed case, shut the city down completely within 2 days. What was the difference? The 14-day difference in response time between the two cities represents approximately 3-5 doubling times for the epidemic. The peak weekly death rate from pneumonia and influenza-related deaths was 257/100,000 people in Philadelphia. The same metric in St. Louis was 31/100,000.
Social distancing works. This is a great paper showing the impact of social modeling on disease progression, and how much more quickly we'd get through it if people would take it seriously. And to be clear, it's not a snow day, as this awesome piece outlines. It's not time off work to hang out with your friends.
It's way too late in Seattle. We kept our schools open. People are going about life as usual. We could still act and it will make a huge difference, but...... we have to act.
There are a lot of reasons why gyms are still open. Actually, there's one: because our social safety net doesn't exist. Because people have to risk losing their businesses and their employees not having jobs, healthcare etc.... If you have a functioning heart and conscience and employ people, that's the kind of thing that makes you lose sleep and want to puke. I get it. I do not know what we'll do if we lose Rocket. I don't know what my employees will do if we can't pay them (though we've told them that we intend to find a way to pay them no matter what, as long as we can.) But we'll get back to fixing our social safety net for the future once we stop people from dying right this minute. (By the way, you do that at the ballot box.)
We cannot, with a clear conscience, operate a gym right now. So we closed. Why? Because social-distancing is the only thing that works. Even if the same number of people got sick (which they won't,) you would slow the rate so that they don't all arrive at the hospital at the same time. So you don't overwhelm the hospital system, which kills even more people.
And honestly, if you love your coaches (and I know you do) how can you ask them to expose themselves, and therefore everyone they love, like this?
Look, you know how people panicked and everyone bought toilet paper and hand sanitizer at the same time, so then there was none, anywhere? That same thing is what's happening to our hospitals, only what we're out of is ICU beds, nurses, doctors and respirators. We have to, at the very least, slow the rate of infection, so that it's possible to deal with it.
There is good news. Social-distancing works. And the sooner we do it, and the more completely, the sooner this passes. We can get it to manageable levels more quickly, or we can drag this out for months and moths.
So, what happens if you close your doors for a while? Honestly, I don't know. I can tell you that, so far, it hasn't hurt us. You know all that talk we talk about how CrossFit is a community and that's what makes us different from a globo gym? This is where we test that and prove it. I can tell you that when we announced we were closing, we were met with nothing but praise and support. People thanking us for doing the right thing, telling us that they'd never quit, some even offering to cover the costs for people who lost work and can't pay. (We comped those people indefinitely.) We're doing what we can to offer obvious and immediate value: at home wods, outdoor workouts when the weather permits, virtual workouts and yoga using online platforms (starting tomorrow.)
I promise you that that's because we really are a community. This won't happen at LA Fitness, or probably even some high-end bootcamp chain. This happens because what makes CrossFit different really is the community. We are Rocket. We are 250 people's 2nd home and extended family. We are a community that has seen each other through birth, death, disease, divorce and more.... We're not going anywhere. We are uniquely situated to survive this unknown and unknowable disaster. We are lucky. But we are not special, I'm willing to bet your gym community is similar.
We were the first (and I think still only) gym to close in Seattle. It was scary. Like most gym-owners, this is our business and our livelihood. We wanted the government to mandate that we close. We wanted them to make the decision for us so that we didn't have to. Moreover, we wanted them to make the decision for us so that our members would know we didn't have a choice, we wanted a mandate to legitimize the decision. But my husband is on the frontlines, he knows how bad this is. We live with my 87 year-old dad, we know how dangerous this is. We had to make the hard choice on our own. Thanks to a panel of doctors who are also members, we made the choice with knowledge, compassion and the strength of our community. Scariest thing we've ever done.
So far, people are really pulling together and want Rocket to be there when this is over. Those who can afford to pay are still paying. So far, so good.
Trust me. Seattle is a shitshow. It's terrible. We waited, like Philadelphia, way too long to get serious. Hell, we still haven't. Learn from us, do better than us, be a St. Louis. We're a good 3 weeks ahead of most of you, that's enough time for you to learn from our mistakes and do better. Take it seriously, NOW, and it won't get this bad for you.
While you're at it, buy gift certificates to your local restaurants and movie theaters. Those awesome small businesses are not so lucky. They are transactional and tend to have more employees. We're going to start a random drawing for members who post photos / videos of their at-home workouts, and each week there's a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant or small business. It's not enough, but it's what we can do.
We can get through this, together. But we have to do what's right to protect our larger community. And that means staying inside, isolating from other people and binge-watching Buffy from the beginning while knitting blankets. Or whatever floats your boat.
If you own a gym and are scared, confused, need support, whatever, you know how to reach me. I will help you. I will. I have nothing better to do these days.
And nothing more important.