Gym to reopen despite COVID outbreak

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Kinesiology Building Ethan Butterfield

It’s about fixed costs, baby

Last week the University of Regina announced that they will be reinstating the $98 Recreation and Athletic Fee in the rapidly approaching Winter 2021 semester, after having suspended the fee for the Spring/Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters. The fee was initially suspended due to the lockdown of campus features and activities, because students were being discouraged from physically coming on campus unless absolutely necessary, and because the majority of courses were being offered remotely, so students who lived outside Regina when not taking classes had gone back to their communities and couldn’t feasibly make the trip back solely to use the recreation and athletic facilities. 

Those three factors are still in effect and case numbers are higher in Saskatchewan than they’ve ever been, yet the Dean of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Harold Riemer, said they’re going forward with plans to re-open the on-campus gym facilities to students in January. The previous drop-in style will be replaced by advanced online booking to make contact tracing easier if there is a COVID-19 exposure, like the one that occurred in the Paul Schwann Centre on November 11 (yes, the same week the fee reinstatement was announced). 

Riemer said it’s important that this fee be charged because “There are a lot of fixed costs associated with recreation and athletics that haven’t gone away despite COVID.” These include the salaries of coaches and trainers, the recreational programming still being provided, and the costs up upkeep and sanitization of the physical facilities. They’re mainly funded by the fee that hasn’t been charged for two thirds of this year, and through renting out the fitness facilities, which has not been possible to the degree needed for roughly two thirds of the year as well. Riemer reported that they have been working with the policies and advisories put forward by the provincial government and the SHA in regards to the safety of the physical facilities, and said they will continue to abide by the guidelines set. 

I talked with a few undergraduate students from the University of Regina to ask for their opinions on the facilities reopening and the fee being reinstated. When I asked Maddy Bowen-Diaz if she’d feel comfortable using the facilities come January, she said “I do not think I will be comfortable in a gym setting for quite a while. Even with mask wearing and regular sanitization, it seems like an unnecessary risk for me. I would maybe be more comfortable going if the number of cases was successfully and drastically lowered by the end of December, but as the government isn’t doing a lot about this, I doubt that will be the case.” 

This brings up an important point – Saskatchewan doctors have already publicly criticized the Saskatchewan Party for having an inadequate response to this building second wave of COVID-19. With that in mind, some students feel that the University agreeing to align with the provincial government’s regulations does not do enough for student safety, as those regulations clearly aren’t making a positive difference in the general population at present. 

“Personally, I’m looking forward to getting back into a gym and working on my fitness again. It’s something I’ve lost in this pandemic more than I like to admit. The U of R gym isn’t going to be any less safe than any other gym that’s open.” said one student who chose to remain anonymous. “That being said, I don’t know how you could charge students fees for a gym if they’re not even living in Regina to access the gym. That is a super shitty thing to do, and there’s probably a lot of students who didn’t move back to Regina due to online classes.” 

When I asked Nadine Steinley if they thought it was fair to charge students this mandatory fee, they said “Maybe just for the people in residence because they live on campus, but I’m currently in Swift Current. And I have to pay for a gym fee. I’m currently two and a half hours away – I’m not going to drive in specifically to go to the gym on campus. I see it as an unnecessary trip. Yes, going to the gym is great. Yes, it’s important. Yes, it’s great for many people’s mental health. But campus has so many people from different communities there every day already.” Unfortunately, students living outside of Regina will have to pay the fee as well, and there is no opt-out option being provided. 

The lack of an opt-out option and the apparent disregard for the safety of their students are what most students report as the most frustrating and disappointing factors in this situation. The University has previously offered opt-out options for things like the U-Pass, because they acknowledged that some students lived too close to campus to have a use for the transit pass they’d be paying for. In that situation, the University acknowledged that charging students a fee for something they wouldn’t realistically use wasn’t appropriate, so they provided the option to opt-out. In this situation, that viewpoint is nowhere to be found.

“I think it is ridiculous that they are reinstating this fee during a pandemic when literally we’re supposed to be at home, not going anywhere unless it’s an emergency or an essential trip.” commented Steinley. “I don’t understand why we have to pay for a gym fee when we’re not even really supposed to be on campus.” 

Since lockdown measures began in mid-March, students have been discouraged from going to campus unless absolutely necessary. At present, COVID-19 is spreading faster than it ever has in Saskatchewan. When numbers were much lower than this the University locked down completely. Now they’re charging students a fee for facilities they’re being told will be safe enough for use during a record-breaking second wave with no plateau in sight. 

I’ll leave you with this fun thought – charging this $98 fee to the 14,568 undergrads eligible this semester would’ve brought in roughly $1,427,664. Definitely can’t see that impacting the University’s motivation to open up facilities though. That doesn’t line up with their business model at all.

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