So much for going to the gym

On Tuesday, the Mills administration announced that gyms, fitness centers and (for some reason) nail salons would not be able to open up on June 1, as had been the plan, but would instead need to wait longer before they could reopen their indoor facilities to customers.

The reason? Science, of course.

Science is every politician’s favorite buzzword. Every governor in America is telling the public that they are using “science” to guide the public policy approach of their state to coronavirus. They know that wrapping yourself in the cloak of “science” will give you an impenetrable suit of political armor. After all, how could anyone want to be opposed to the cold logical brilliance of “science.”

Curious, then, that everyone’s version of science seems to come to different conclusions.

Kathy Brierley gets in a workout early in the morning at Yuma Family YMCA on May 13 in Yuma, Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey allowed gyms and public swimming pools to reopen as he continues easing the restrictions he imposed on businesses and individuals to tamp down the coronavirus outbreak. (Randy Hoeft/The Yuma Sun via AP)

Gyms, athletic facilities, barber shops and nail salons were all allowed to be open in Alabama on May 11. In Arizona, businesses that could incorporate social distancing precautions were allowed to open on May 8, restaurants were able to reopen on the 11, and pools and gyms were allowed to be open on May 13.

California has decided that right now, retail, manufacturing, pet groomers, car washes and offices can be reopen, but hair and nail salons, gyms and movie theaters are not safe yet.

In Georgia, gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors were all given the go ahead to reopen on April 24, so long as they followed certain state guidelines on social distancing.

Hawaii, by contrast prioritized florists on May 1, before it even allowed general retail operations to resume. So called “low risk” businesses were allowed to open a week later. Kansas says that gyms and fitness centers can reopen, but they must do so without their locker rooms in operation, and they are not able to hold any classes. Mississippi has decreed that gyms, bars and tattoo parlors must remain closed.

Tennessee and Oklahoma allowed gyms to reopen on May 1, Montana on May 15, South Carolina and Texas on May 18. Several states still haven’t allowed them to open and will be doing so later.

There is no question that the different strategies employed state to state are partially due to the differing circumstances in each state. Yet that doesn’t really explain a lot of the bewildering contradictions we see. States that share most of the same metrics and characteristics are often approaching their state reopening in drastically different ways. All citing “science” guiding their decisions.

In explaining the decision here in Maine to not reopen gyms, Dr. Nirav Shah cited a recent study out of South Korea that linked an outbreak of cases to dance classes.

I’m sure the study is legitimate, though I do wonder why a study was necessary to understand that breathing heavily in a closed environment was likely to increase your likelihood of spreading, or contracting a respiratory illness. I think that every governor, and every state CDC director knew that instinctively already, as it is not only “science,” but it is common sense.

Which is the real point. There is no such thing as “science” when it comes to the decisions being made right now in every state. If this was about “science,” then we would remain in deep and crushing quarantines throughout the summer and even beyond, in an attempt to truly defeat COVID-19.

That isn’t what is happening. Leaders are now trying to use their instincts and judgment to decide which risks are worth taking, and which risks are not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were afforded a similar ability to do the same.

If I were allowed to walk in to a gym tomorrow, I would do so with full knowledge of the fact that it was a location that was more likely to transmit COVID-19 to me than a trip to my local Hannaford.

Every choice we make in life, from the decision to get in a car and drive to work, to hopping on a plane to visit a relative across the country carries with it in inherent risk to you, to say nothing of universally destructive choices like smoking that you are allowed to make as a free individual.

Given the annihilation of the livelihoods of countless business owners and their employees across the state in industry after industry, state leaders would be wise to take the marginal risk of allowing gyms and nail salons to reopen, and allow individuals the latitude to decide for themselves whether they want to take the risk of patronizing those facilities.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.