Opinion: Closing YMCAs will worsen the harmful effects of COVID-19

Submitted by the Ohio Alliance of YMCAs

YMCAs in Ohio support the Governor’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID. We are contributing to that cause by operating clean and safe facilities while keeping people physically and mentally healthy. We urge him not to worsen the harmful effects of COVID on our communities by closing YMCAs. We are essential in every community we serve, providing an array of social assistance and wrap-around services, and we cannot endure another closing.

On March 16, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine ordered gyms and fitness centers to close indefinitely. On March 26, childcare centers were ordered closed except pandemic childcare for essential workers. The YMCAs across the state were devastated by both orders as their fitness centers are their primary source of revenue and childcare centers are another key financial driver.

As The New York Times reported in July, before the pandemic, Ys were typically operating on margins of three percent or less, but the closings pushed revenues down 30 to 50 percent nationwide. Most YMCAs had furloughed 70 to 95 percent of their workers. Ohio 162 Ys have already lost $78 million in revenue and lost over 200,000 members this year.

Yet, as nonprofits serving their communities, most Ohio Ys quickly pivoted and stood up pandemic childcare centers to serve essential workers because that is what their communities needed. Y’s also provided free virtual programming to all, served over 1,400 children per day in childcare during a COVID environment, over 3,000 youth per day through feeding programs, and over 10,000 seniors per month with virtual wellness checks.

Since fitness centers and childcare centers were allowed to reopen, Ys again pivoted. We have provided exceptionally safe branches and programming meeting and exceeding CDC and health department guidelines. Our school-age child programs are supporting students learning virtually, providing for them even as school districts change back and forth from in-school to out-of-school settings.

As essential community centers, Ys across Ohio have been clawing their way back to sustainability though none have come close to break even. Now, Governor DeWine is again threatening to close gyms and fitness centers, including YMCAs.

As a nonprofit committed to healthy living, we support all efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, YMCAs are not the problem. We meet or exceed the strictest CDC and health department requirements for COVID prevention. From June through November, the larger Ohio Ys welcomed 2.4 million visits. Of those, only 5 COVID cases have been contact traced to one of those Ys, or 0.0002 percent.

Shuttering YMCAs again will cause them financial devastation that will not be recoverable. When that happens, the cost to communities will be likewise catastrophic. The critical services Ys provide across the state, notably childcare, camps, active older adult programming, swimming lessons, food distribution, sports training, wellness programs and more, will cease to be available. No one is turned away from a Y, so low-income individuals and families who have benefited from our financial aid will have nowhere to go.

Also, at risk are more than 3,700 of YMCA jobs in this state and the shuttering of dozens of branches in cities large and small.

Ohio’s YMCAs are advocating for the thousands of Ohioans who count on us for jobs, services and the essential work we do in communities across the state. We are uniformly joined in the fight against the negative effects of COVID. Shuttering YMCAs will do inestimable damage both in the short and long term that will inordinately affect those most at risk. We implore the Governor to not make Ys across our state and the communities they serve the unintended victims of an unnecessary shut down.

Submitted by the Ohio Alliance of YMCAs