Open City of Winnipeg gyms highlight lack of clarity around public health orders, mayor says

Mayor Brian Bowman says the City of Winnipeg’s choice to keep some gyms open is an example of the lack of clarity around COVID-19 public health orders.

The city primarily wanted to keep its gyms open to serve first responders and sought advice from the province, Bowman said at a news conference Wednesday.

After health inspectors visited the facilities and said it was OK to keep them open, the city decided to do that, Bowman said.

“This just underscores the challenges that I think many folks are having in this province of getting clarity from the province when they need it,” Bowman said. 

“When the province is asked to provide input and approval and they conduct inspections, we should be able to rely on the provincial officials for that guidance.”

The issue came to light after Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) criticized the city on Twitter for allowing its fitness facilities in city-owned buildings to remain open for employees, despite public health orders that have forced gyms around the city to remain closed for weeks. 

Facilities in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg police stations and six others at various workplaces, including at city hall and at 457 Main St., all remained open.

Later Tuesday, a spokesperson said that the city will shut most of its fitness facilities, with the exception of those located in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service stations or Winnipeg Police Service stations, because first responders have mandatory fitness standards.

The gym at 457 Main will also remain open, but only for police. 

Advice incomplete: Roussin

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday that the city wasn’t breaking public health orders, but it also wasn’t given express permission to stay open.

“Our public health orders don’t apply to any levels of government, so they don’t apply to federal, provincial or municipal governments,” he said.

But in a statement sent Wednesday, Roussin said a public health inspector provided information to the City of Winnipeg that was incomplete and lacked context.

While firefighters, paramedics and police might need access to fitness centres, a private gym at city hall or other city facilities for use by elected officials or other city staff does not fall within the spirit of the public health orders and should not remain open, he said.

Bowman said he and other city officials were surprised to learn that City of Winnipeg gyms were allowed to remain open because of the exemption for governments. 

The city plans to reach out to the province to make sure there aren’t other areas where they might not be following the spirit of the public health orders, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to. This is the level of government that sets these rules and when we ask them for advice on how they’re implemented, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect their advice will be complete,” he said.