As the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, it has been particularly tough for my community and our members to endure the health and economic fallout of COVID-19. We have watched as many of our businesses have struggled to stay afloat or have shut their doors altogether while many workers across the state have lost their jobs.
The Hispanic population is the backbone of the economy in Florida and across the country. Our communities make up a large percentage of those classified as “essential workers” and when the pandemic hit, our community remained in place to ensure businesses and the economy could keep running. This put Hispanics at greater risk of contracting the virus, which we have seen played out across the nation through rates of hospitalization as high as four times the rate of other communities.
The emotional and mental toll these changes have had on our community and the state at large should not be overlooked. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in mid-July showed that more than half of Americans reported that “their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.” Prioritizing the mental and physical health of our communities is one way to help mitigate the physical, emotional and mental risks that COVID-19 poses. Having access to affordable fitness centers allows people to take care of their bodies, release stress, and clear their minds.
Floridians should feel secure attending the gyms as fitness centers were able to reopen under limited capacity prior to Phase 3 and continue to serve as a great example of how businesses can safely operate in the age of COVID. As we adapt to our new normal during the pandemic, gyms have set a high bar when it comes to safety protocols, often far-exceeding the requirements set by state and local governments, and the vast majority of patrons have shown that they are willing to adhere to safety protocols.
Aside from the many health benefits, fitness centers are critical to our economy. A 2019 report concluded in Florida alone, the industry’s 2,300 health clubs top $1.5 billion in revenue, pay nearly $66 million in payroll taxes, and employ 103,00 Floridians. While we may be well on our way to reopening, local leaders should support preserving as much revenue and employment for our state as we can.
To ensure our community has an outlet to alleviate stress, boosting their physical and mental health, we must work together to help keep each other safe, offer resources that help build up our immune systems to fight COVID-19, and ensure our economy is able to get back on its feet.
Julio Fuentes is President & CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce