By Thomas J. Ryan and Eric Smith

On Sunday, Eric Artz, REI’s president and CEO, became the latest retailer to try to reassure customers it’s safe to shop amid the coronavirus outbreak. A number of sporting and other events have already been canceled due to concerns.

“The health and safety of our co-op community is our highest priority. As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread throughout the country, I wanted to share some of the actions REI is taking to help protect both you and our employees,” Artz wrote in the blog entry.

Those steps include “increasing the frequency and rigor of cleaning and sanitization in all of our retail stores, distribution centers and office environments.”

Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials, REI said it is keeping its stores open. Artz added, “In our stores, we’re doing all we can to make sure you feel safe, comfortable and welcome.”

REI has further modified its paid time off policies to ensure that employees—including hourly retail associates—who miss work due to illness or to care for sick family members do not suffer a loss of income or other benefits.

Finally, he said terms for cancellations and refunds for all REI events, activities and adventure travel programs are being updated to provide more flexibility and avoid incurring financial penalties.

Artz concluded, “All of us at REI understand that this issue is cause for concern to many, and we offer our deepest sympathies to those who have already been affected. Rest assured that as circumstances continue to develop, one thing will remain the same. We will make our decisions with the health and well-being of our members, customers, employees and communities as our highest priority. “

On Saturday, Nordstrom’s top leaders, Erik and Pete Nordstrom wrote a letter to customers to inform them that the retailer has likewise increased the “frequency and extent” of daily store cleanings, added hand sanitizers to all stores, and is taking steps to ensure employees have the resources to stay healthy. The brothers wrote, “We are confident our stores continue to be safe, and we remain open for business.”

REI’s and Nordstrom’s home state, Washington, has endured most of the U.S. deaths to date.

The reassurances come amid growing concerns about going out in public with many cases arriving in the U.S.

A Coresight Research survey taken from February 25 to 26 found nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers would stay away from stores if the outbreak worsens. On February 26, the U.S. had 60 confirmed cases and the first death was reported on February 29. As of Monday morning, cases surpassed 560 and the death toll reached 22.

In other retail channels, Costco has suspended free samples from some stores in response. Trader Joe’s is now handing out samples individually instead of keeping pre-plated samples on a platter.

Starbucks has suspended the use of personal cups while announcing it is increasing cleaning and sanitizing across stores. Store teams were given protocols “on how to report and support anyone that may express they’ve been impacted by the virus, including store closure decision making support.”

On March 6, Starbucks closed one of its downtown Seattle stores for sanitization after an employee tested positive for the virus.

Trade Show Updates
Outdoor Retailer said last week that while it’s closely monitoring the coronavirus situation, right now the company is “actively planning” to host the annual Summer Market June 23-25 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, CO. Click here to read OR’s statement.

Here is a rundown of other shows that have commented on the coronavirus impact and decided to either hold, cancel or postpone their events, as well as brands that have decided to forgo scheduled events (this list will be updated as new announcements are made):

  • Running Industry Association is planning to host its second annual Kick Show in Denver, CO, from May 11-14
  • The Sea Otter Classic, the outdoor cycling festival held in Monterey County, CA, has postponed its April event. The event hosts over 1000 exhibitors, 9,600 athletes and 72,500 fans. No new dates have yet been set for the rescheduled event.
  • The Arnold Fitness EXPO, scheduled to take place in Columbus, OH, last weekend, was postponed due to coronavirus precautions. The strongman and bodybuilding events, as part of the Arnold Sports Festival, took place but no spectators were allowed. The Boston Pro Show and Fitness Expo offered to help displaced vendors and sponsors who were prevented from attending the event.
  • The North American Handmade Bicycle Show announced it would postpone its event, scheduled for March in Dallas, TX, due to concerns over the coronavirus and reschedule it for August.
  • IHRSA said it is “carefully monitoring” developments related to the coronavirus outbreak but plans to hold the IHRSA 2020 Fitness Show that runs from March 18 to 21 in San Diego, CA. But many brands have said they won’t attend. Below are a few that have been announced.
  • Life Fitness said that due to the continued global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it has made the “difficult decision” to withdraw attendance to IHRSA.
  • Freemotion Fitness said that due to the recent announcement of a state of emergency in California, the ongoing global concerns and uncertainty over the spread of the coronavirus, it also made the “difficult decision” to withdraw from IHRSA.
  • Precor said it won’t attend IHRSA “due to the recent increase in coronavirus related health risks” and staff concerns.
  • Keiser Corporation has decided to withdraw from IHRSA due to the continuing global spread of the coronavirus. Keiser is one of the very few companies that has exhibited at every IHRSA Conference since its inception.

Sporting Events At Risk
Fears of thousands of fans gathered in arenas stadiums have brought the idea of cancellations, or at least limiting attendance, to U.S. sporting events. Though a decision is looming for the world’s largest sporting spectacle—the Summer Olympics—plenty of smaller events are being scrapped here in light of the coronavirus.

  • Over the weekend, organizers of the BNP Paribas Open in Southern California, one of the largest tennis tournaments outside the majors, said they have canceled the event scheduled for later this month because of the growing outbreak.
  • The FIS issued a statement last Friday announcing that the World Cup Finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, have been canceled due to extreme coronavirus outbreak in the region and will not be replaced. “Due to the outbreak and situation with the Novel Coronavirus in Northern Italy where there is a concentration of cases in the Veneto province that have led to travel restrictions imposed by an increasing number of nations, on the recommendation of the FIS Council, the Italian Winter Sports Federation and its Cortina 2020 Organizing Committee are regrettably forced to withdraw from the organization of the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Finals scheduled for March 18-22,” according to the statement.
  • The NBA is seeking feedback from its teams about how they’re managing the situation and also providing guidance on the need for each franchise to implement precautions such as having an infectious disease doctor on call and limiting players’ interactions with fans. The league is reportedly also considering games without fans in the arena and only allowing essential staff to attend—an idea that prompted disbelief from LA Lakers star LeBron James during a recent post-game interview.”Nah, that’s impossible,” James said after Friday’s win over the Bucks. “I ain’t playing. If I ain’t got the fans in the crowd, that’s what I play for. I play for my teammates, I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena, and there ain’t no fans there? I ain’t playing. So, they could do what they want to do.”
  • With March Madness set to begin next week, the NCAA is not planning to cancel games or restrict fan attendance.”The panel members believe that we need to better understand COVID-19 while continuing to work with local, state and federal health authorities such as the CDC,” NCAA officials said in a statement. “The key is for all stakeholders and athletes to practice risk mitigation at all events. At present, the panel is not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States.”

Fitness Centers Prepare For Coronavirus
Many gyms, yoga centers, cycling facilities and barre studios also reportedly sent out e-mail blasts to clients to ensure that they’re keeping their spaces clean and sanitary. Messaging included disinfecting high-touch surfaces, adding more access to disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers, and including doorknobs in cleaning routines. The Bar Method in Bethesda, MD e-mailed students to say that it was “wiping down and sanitizing weights, straps and mats daily and temporarily limiting their use of balls and of hands-on adjustments.”

  • Flywheel said it’s taking five steps to “protect our environment from viruses,” including • All surfaces and specifically touch point surfaces (faucets, door handles, lockers) will be wiped down multiple times per day with a disinfectant that has the power to kill 99.9 percent of all bacteria; •Each workout room will be sanitized before and after each use; • All participants will be reminded to sanitize hands before and after class; • Floors will be regularly steam cleaned with sanitizing products; • All equipment will be wiped down with disinfectant before and after each use; and • Any employee who has flu-like symptoms will not be permitted to work. The cycling studio also offered some reminders, such as washing hands often, to help its clients stay healthy.Wrote Flywheel, “By following some basic steps, you can help reduce your risk, and do your part to protect others, if your community is affected. We can fight these germs together and stay safe and fit through it all!”
  • In an e-mail, CorePower Yoga said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends everyday preventive actions to avoid the spread of respiratory disease — wash your hands frequently and distance yourself from those who are coughing or sick,” said the email from CorePower Yoga. “If you aren’t feeling well, we ask that you please stay home from class for your well-being and that of your fellow students and teachers.”
  • Soul Cycle, owned by Equinox Fitness, guaranteed that it would start honoring late cancellations. “Stay home if you’re feeling sick,” the note advised.
  • Barry’s Bootcamp goes so far as to deliver this warning in a note to guests: “Avoid kissing, hugging, and the sharing of cups and water bottles.”
  • In a statement released via Reddit, the president of Orangetheory Fitness, David Carney, said: “If you don’t want to exchange a high five with the coach, we understand.”

Adjustments At Headquarters
Many companies in the active lifestyle industry are also taking precautionary steps to ensure working conditions are safe, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest.

Brooks Running, based in Seattle, is restricting all non-essential travel and encouraging employees to work from home if possible as part of its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Other steps include educating employees on CDC recommendations for personal hygiene habits, and upgrading cleaning materials and practices in its headquarters building.

CEO, Jim Weber said last week in a statement to SGB Media, “We currently have no known exposure throughout our HQ team. We are assessing the situation daily and following recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and local public health authorities. Our priorities are helping employees stay healthy and safe, keeping our business running, servicing our customers, and staying connected with each other.”

REI, also based in Seattle, temporarily closed three corporate campuses in Washington state to conduct a deep cleaning process after learning that two headquarter employees may have been exposed to coronavirus.

Nike closed its Oregon headquarters the weekend of February 29 to undergo a deep cleaning after news broke that a case of coronavirus hit home involving a Washington County, OR resident. Nike’s European headquarters in Amsterdam were closed earlier in the week for disinfection after an employee was infected with the coronavirus.

An Adidas employee, based at the company’s global headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, The affected employees will stay in “home-quarantine” for 14 days, or can return to work if the test result is negative, the company says.

In addition, “critical office areas at our headquarters were deep-cleaned on Wednesday night to make the workplace safer for those that work onsite,” Adidas says. “We continue to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis to determine what measures are necessary for our employees’ safety and wellbeing.”

Columbia Sportswear also deep cleaned its headquarters in the Oak Hills neighborhood of Portland, OR the weekend of February 29 with a coronavirus case being found at a nearby elementary school.

Amazon has asked all of its 798,000 employees to stop all nonessential travel, both domestic and internationally.

Photo courtesy Reuters