Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is imposing new restrictions on the liberty of individuals and businesses in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19, but not everyone is unquestioningly accepting these authoritarian policies.
According to Boston.com, the gym chain Planet Fitness is fighting back against the restrictions. “In March, we understood the shutdown,” said Stan DeMartinis, who runs two Planet Fitness gyms in Boston and several more in the surrounding area. “But the fact is that we’re one of the only industries out there that can contact trace our members, because they check in all of the time. Our position is going to remain very firm: Fitness is essential, it’s safe, and we should be able to remain open in our communities because of the benefits we give to the consumer… I run two gyms in that city, and they’ve never contacted me once this whole time. They just want to shut me down. That’s where the frustration comes in… Where we are in the country today, not to get into politics, but half the people want to work out and half don’t. Our members that come in right now are members who have made their assessment of risk. They feel safe in their environment to work out. They feel they have a constitutional right to do that. And that is being taken away from them.”
Exactly. People have a fundamental right to make their own decisions about which activities they are willing to do and how much risk they are willing to incur. Some people do not wish to work out, because they do not think it is worth the risk of catching the coronavirus. That is fine. Others do wish to work out, because they think it is worth the risk of catching the coronavirus. That is also fine. It is unacceptable for the government to take that decision away from people and force everyone to live according to the preferences of the most risk-averse people. And although hitting the gym is not mentioned in the constitution, it is indeed a constitutional right. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments specify that people are allowed to do any activity that the Constitution does not specifically prohibit.
Planet Fitness also has a good argument that the fitness industry is being treated unfairly compared to other industries. Walsh’s restrictions order the shutdown of gyms, museums, historical sites, aquariums, and movie theaters, while sparing restaurants and stores. When Walsh introduced the restrictions, he said: “This is not about targeting specific sectors that cause the virus. This is an effort to reduce overall activity outside the home.” This is a confusing statement, because the restrictions clearly do target specific industries by including them in the list of businesses required to close. But what Walsh seems to be saying is that inclusion in the list was not determined by how risky a particular type of business is. Instead, Walsh is just trying to decrease the total amount of businesses open so that people will have fewer options for activities to do outside their homes. This raises the question: how did Walsh decide which businesses would be forced to close and which would be allowed to remain open? What criteria did he use, if not the level of risk? Given the potentially disastrous economic impact of inclusion on the list, Walsh owes these unlucky business owners an explanation.