This spring has been atypical to say the least. At the time of drafting this over 258,000 people have died of the coronavirus, almost 74,000 in the US alone. We’re socially distancing which is why I’m watching more videos than normal. All the gyms are closed. In the US, whether you support the lockdown to keep people safe or oppose it due to the economic damage it’s doing is becoming a political topic. Gross misinformation is spreading; people are comparing this to influenza, and whether they mean the 1918 Flu Epidemic or just seasonal influenza outbreaks largely depends which side of the political aisle they’re on. All at once we’re seeing a pandemic on the scale we haven’t in a century and a looming financial crash that’s looking more and more like another major recession if not a full on depression.
Calling for all academies to close has a strong foot in the science of the situation. About 25% of cases seem to be asymptomatic for the full duration of infection and even those who show symptoms tend not to for 5-6 days after being infected but can still spread the disease during that time. As young, healthy adults we’re individually unlikely to feel the truly negative effects of the virus, requiring hospitalization or even passing away from the complications. Rather, we’re likely the invisible carriers, the folks risking spreading the disease without a trace as we pass people in the supermarket or at work for those who have “essential” jobs. Congregating is of minimal risk to our health, but it poses a great risk to the vulnerable populations around us, including those we may not interact with directly as we may spread the disease to someone who spreads the disease to someone who interacts with a member of the at-risk population. This is the fundamental reason states and the community at large are calling for closures of non-essential businesses, especially places like jiu-jitsu gyms where close contact is a defining characteristic of the activities we would be participating in.
Given the concern for the community it’s easy to lose sight of the reality many are facing though. Gyms may not be around to open up when this is all over. Rents are still being collected. Bills still exist. In some cases owning or working at a gym is the principle livelihood of the head instructor. If those people have families they may be fearing for their finances, feeding their kids, even keeping their homes. There is an indisputable economic impact to this and the sad reality is capital-C Capitalism would see those folks choose between downplaying the risk to the community to eat or to accept that they are unessential and force them to find new work at a time where unemployment is higher than I think it’s ever been while I’ve been alive. The community is dismissing the concerns of these individuals as them being selfish or uncaring assholes. The reality is, they have legitimate concerns that we need to think about how to resolve as a society. Small business loans and unemployment are failing all around us, and yet we wouldn’t dismiss the folks who wish they could get back to other jobs but we do dismiss gym owners because some portion of gyms are able to be hobbies rather than full time jobs. The only crime these folks committed was following their passions rather than falling in line and getting employment that would be stable even in a crisis.
I don’t think, given the current body of evidence, that it’s safe for gyms to be open, but I think we as a community need to be better about understanding why there are people desperate to open back up. When someone says they miss rolling, yeah it sucks, but the safety of the community comes first. When someone says their business won’t last and they’ll be without income, that’s not something we should be dismissing so carelessly. Again, gyms should be closed, but we should be more compassionate in our discussions of why it’s the bullet we’re biting for some people to lose their businesses to potentially save tens of thousands of lives.