Dear Members of the City Council,
Each day, thousands of Cambridge residents rely on local health and fitness facilities to maintain their physical, mental, and emotional health. The facilities they attend—which operate with strict adherence to local, state and CDC safety guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19—are providing the community with essential health services during this time of unprecedented need. I am writing to express my gratitude to the City Council for allowing Cambridge residents to access these facilities and to urge the City Council to keep these responsibly-operating facilities open and accessible during the inclement months ahead.
After seven months of COVID-19 restrictions, Cambridge residents are struggling with the accumulating health impacts of closures and isolation. For example, we know—based on a study of 3,052 U.S. adults—that COVID-19 restrictions imposed during Spring 2020 caused physical activity levels to decrease by 32% and sitting time to increase by 26%. Moreover, moving less and sitting more was consistently associated with lower positive mental health and higher depression, loneliness, and stress.
In a time of COVID-19, physical activity is more critical than ever. Physical activity positively impacts both mental and physical health. It dramatically reduces the risk for developing systemic inflammation and excess body mass. It also reduces the risk of infection and boosts immune function.
In fact, the body of research on COVID-19 reveals that physical activity may be particularly effective in mitigating the virus’s harmful effects. For example, a study of 6,916 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in California revealed that people living with obesity are at significantly greater risk—up to four times—of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Cambridge residents need access to safe places where they can be physically active. Health & fitness facilities that operate with strict adherence to local, state and CDC guidelines can be these safe places. As a Doctor of Public Health with 25 years of health & fitness industry experience, I was a part of the team that developed industry guidelines based on CDC and WHO guidance and the current evidence base on risk mitigation strategies, mask mandates, physical distancing, air filtration and ventilation, disinfection and sanitation, and capacity limits.
Health & fitness facilities pose up to four times less risk than restaurants. Whereas a recent CDC study found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to report dining out at a restaurant, there was no association between a positive test result and having visited a health & fitness facility. This is supported by state contact tracing data. Louisiana ranks restaurants as #2 out of 19 settings for the number of COVID-19 cases, whereas health & fitness centers are #15. Colorado found 945 cases linked to restaurants, but only 4 cases resulting from a single outbreak linked to health & fitness facilities.
I urge the City Council to consider the health benefits of physical activity for Cambridge residents, the strict risk mitigation strategies in place in health & fitness facilities, and the limited evidence for COVID-19 transmission in health & fitness facility settings in your deliberations.
Amy Bantham, DrPH, MS, MPP
CEO/Founder, Move to Live More
Doctor of Public Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Group Exercise Instructor, Healthworks Fitness Center