No Passport, No Push Presses: Vaccine Cards and Gym Owners

A defocused woman holds out a passport and a smartphone with a vaccine verification.

How is a gym owner to deal with vaccine passports?

The answer: No one is totally sure right now.

As governments scramble to roll out vaccine passports, QR codes, immunization cards, “green passes,” COVID passports and other systems, gym owners are once again being left in a bad spot.

Be warned: This is not a commentary on whether passports are needed, just or fair. We also won’t deal with the efficacy of vaccines.

We’ll deal only with one thing:

Service businesses with relatively small staffs are being put in a very difficult situation—yet again.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

At the beginning of the month, I wrote about how vaccine passports would force gym owners to exclude some people no matter what: Read “An All-Time Catch-22.”

That’s happening now. I chatted online with a number of gym owners in one of Two-Brain’s private groups and heard some tough reports:

  • Membership cancellations.
  • 10-year members going on hold.
  • Pauses by members who are between doses and won’t be able to train until they reach full status.
  • Kids programs cut in half as unvaccinated parents leave with their children.
  • Staffing issues due to unvaccinated team members.


Again, whatever your politics are, you can see that small business owners are being forced to deal with difficult issues that are well beyond the standard day-to-day trials of keeping a microgym running.

It’s surreal when you stop to think about it: A gym owner does an incredible thing by helping a client improve health for more than a decade only to lose that client over vaccine status. Another builds a program that combats obesity by getting kids off their screens only to have half the kids leave the gym.


Passport Systems and New Staff Tasks


As the various passport systems roll out, owners are now being asked to become security guards of sorts: They have to check for proof of vaccination, and they risk fines if they don’t turn away anyone who can’t or won’t produce the correct documentation.

That obviously puts gym owners into a potentially incendiary situation, but it also creates labor and security issues.

Checking documentation takes time. At best, it’s yet one more thing a staff member has to do. And I can tell you it wasn’t always easy to get staff members to take attendance in pre-pandemic days. At worst, it’s a situation that can create fights, might intrude on privacy and puts the responsibility on gym owners to maintain the security of confidential health information.

We won’t even get into the inevitable issues with forged documents and legitimate but confusing documents from other areas of the country or world.

The mechanics of passport systems are different everywhere, and some governments are further ahead than others. In Malaysia, an app and a QR code system are used to manage everything. A local gym owner reported his staff just uses the app and has no issues with clients at present. Read more about MySejahtera here.

In Ontario, Canada, vaccinated people are issued a slip of paper or are sent an email with vaccination status. As of Sept. 22, residents had to show their slips and ID for entrance into select facilities, including gyms. Receipt verification is a four-step process that includes stuff like this: “Verify that the date of administration of the final shot in the series is at least 14 days prior to the date the patron is seeking access to the business or organization.”

That temporary system could be considered “less advanced” than the Malaysian solution, though Ontario residents are told improvements are coming in the form of a QR code system.

At some point.


Forced to Adapt—Again


The current issue in blunt terms: Governments are struggling to hack together systems, and business owners are left with more questions than answers.

Here’s one example in Alberta, Canada. Here’s another from Manitoba/Ontario.

And things are not always going well. News reports indicate some people are protesting at businesses and others are actually getting verbally hostile or physically aggressive with staff members. “Repel boarders” is likely not in any employee’s job description.

For example, one restaurant in Alberta voluntarily shut down in-person dining so staff didn’t have to deal with harassment and anger: Globalnews.ca.

In our group, gym owners are working to develop the best plans for their businesses, their staffs and their clients. I was thrilled to see how calm, prepared, organized entrepreneurs are adjusting to regulations, communicating with clients and creating options for those who are excluded.

These owners reported several approaches as restrictions are phased in, and the thread included a lengthy discussion on labor, privacy concerns, security of records and so on. For example, can gym owners ask their clients to email proof of vaccination or are they violating legislation designed to safeguard health information?

In at least one jurisdiction, business are forbidden from retaining any information, so a microgym business with a host of regular members might have to stay onside of regulations by inspecting documents once and then noting “cleared” status on some document comically mislabeled with “V for Very Happy Members!”


Entrepreneurs Solving Problems

The point is that these important discussions are happening in our group, and the best entrepreneurs are solving problems—then helping others do the same thing.

But I wish they didn’t have to. I wish they could get back to focusing 100 percent on serving their clients and helping them accomplish their goals.

All in all, it’s still disaster management, not rapid forward movement, for many businesses that have struggled since the spring of 2020.

I suppose it’s somewhat understandable for governments to be scrambling given the unprecedented current situation. But after almost two years of chaos, it’s also understandable for business owners to be frustrated—especially those in the embattled entertainment and service industries.

As 2021 continues and the pandemic evolves, my wish is for sound, swift, clear government decisions that take into account the realities of keeping a small business going in a pandemic.

Business owners don’t deserve political posturing and vague instructions from any of their elected representatives. They deserve real leadership that will help them get back to some version of normal as soon as possible.

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