Back in the spring, it seemed like things were improving on the COVID-19 front. Vaccination rates were starting to climb and outbreaks were starting to wane. But then the Delta variant took hold, and it was a game-changer in the worst possible sense.
Over the past month, COVID-19 cases have surged again, so much so that the CDC was forced to reverse its masking guidance and insist that even fully vaccinated individuals don a mask in public indoor spaces. In fact, many businesses have, over the past number of weeks, instituted their own masking requirements.
But there's a difference between insisting that patrons wear masks versus insisting that they show proof of vaccination. And now, a major fitness chain is opting to enforce the latter.
Vaccine requirements are coming to gyms
Equinox, which owns SoulCycle, has said that come September, both members and employees will need to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to enter one of its facilities in New York City. And the chain has made it clear that that mandate will start out in NYC but eventually cover all of its locations around the world.
Equinox will accept physical vaccine cards, photos of those cards, or state-issued digital vaccine passports as proof of inoculation. The company will also work with patrons and employees who haven't gotten the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons.
Though the move on Equinox's part may come off as a bold one, it aligns with a practice many big-name employers and colleges are increasingly starting to enforce. Furthermore, New York City is requiring proof of vaccine to dine indoors or enter an indoor entertainment venue, so Equinox's initial mandate falls in with what the city is already doing.
Will Equinox's move help its prospects -- or hurt them?
Equinox operates more than 100 fitness centers around the world, including 34 in New York City. SoulCycle, meanwhile, has more than 90 studios globally and 19 in NYC. Equinox has been in talks with different SPACs in the hopes of taking its business public. Initial reports say that the company could command a $9 billion valuation.
Whether its stance on vaccines will help it from an IPO standpoint or do the opposite is yet to be determined. On one hand, vaccine requirements could turn customers away and hurt Equinox's revenue. On the other hand, by creating a safer environment, Equinox might inspire more confidence from members and investors alike.
In a recent internal survey, Equinox found that 96% of its members and 89% of its employees were already vaccinated. The majority of members also said they support a vaccine mandate. If investors take kindly to this new rule, it could help drive interest in the company as it seeks to go public.
Incidentally, Equinox's new rule could also be beneficial to real estate investors. Commercial landlords routinely rely on gyms to pay rent. Imposing vaccine requirements could prevent Equinox and other facilities from having to close due to outbreaks. The result? Preserved revenue and a steady stream of rent payments for the landlords who rely on that income.