Gyms Reopen With Strict Guidelines

Retro Fitness is one of many gyms in the region that thoroughly prepared for reopening with intense disinfection techniques. (Photo courtesy of Retro Fitness)

Gyms and fitness centers across Long Island have sat idly by as dozens of other businesses have reopened since Governor Andrew Cuomo began the process of bringing New York back amid the coronavirus pandemic.

These businesses were given the green light to reopen on Monday, Aug. 24, but at just 33 percent capacity. Masks are required for those inside of each facility at all times, and they can’t open their doors unless they pass a local health department inspection.

“Only three states have kept gyms closed—New York, New Jersey and North Carolina—affecting the well being of its citizens,” Retro Fitness CEO Andrew Alfano said. “The other 47 states have shown no outbreaks from working out inside a gym, and industry studies have shown that with 49.4 million check ins across the nation, a negligible .0002 percent had any COVID-related incidents, according to MXM.”

The facilities will need to keep a close eye on equipment as they begin to reopen. Many gyms already had policies in place before the pandemic that required members to clean machines and weights after using them, but now employees will also have to do so.
The New York State mandate for those ready to get back to working out in a gym includes face masks and not shields.

“Acceptable face coverings include, but are not limited to, cloth-based face coverings and disposable masks appropriate for exercise that cover both the mouth and nose,” the state mandate reads.

Waivers will also need to be signed by employees and guests at gyms and other types of fitness centers. You will need to provide basic information, such as name and address, in order to track people down if someone at the facility contracts COVID-19 and contact tracing is needed.

Locker rooms and restrooms will need to be cleaned at least every two hours, the state said.

MERV-13 filters are now a requirement for all fitness centers, meant to make sure the indoor facilities have proper ventilation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But a report in Fortune last month stated that, due to the increasing demand of these filters, there is a shortage.

Retro Fitness, which has 11 locations on Long Island, is taking on additional guidelines besides the ones issued by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We have implemented social distancing by closing off machines, marking the floors with labels, executing touchless check-ins, capture occupancy rates through those check ins to maintain social distancing, required masks, created training programs and required employees and owners to take and pass these development courses, certified the reopening of clubs based on our field inspection, developed new technology to make sure members are acknowledging that they are COVID symptom free,” Alfano said. “Not to mention that we were already historically the cleanest industry in the country. In no other scenario will you find people who clean up after themselves when they move from one machine to another. Let’s be clear, nobody has ever cleaned up their table on the way out of the restaurant, or the pole on the subway before they got off it. We don’t have to be taught to be clean. We have been for decades.”

Gyms and other types of fitness centers shut their doors officially on March 22 across New York State. Ever since, they have been left out of the governor’s reopening phases due to a concern of spreading COVID-19 within these facilities.

The governor has received plenty of criticism for this as owners of these businesses, as well as from those who are desperate to get back into their normal routines, continue to express their anger.

But just because the gyms are reopening does not mean they will fill up right away. The 33 percent capacity, which includes employees, means guests will be severely limited. Others are simply going to wait to see if there is a second wave of coronavirus cases, or until they can go to the gym without masks.

Throughout the pandemic, fitness centers have gotten creative in order to stay afloat. Brands like Planet Fitness have provided at-home workout videos, and small, local ones created outdoor sessions.

“We have expanded our wellness program beyond the gym,” Alfano said. “Our industry boasts about ‘taking the fitness journey with our members.’ But in our case, we are truly taking that journey with them, wherever they are and in small steps as a way to sprinkle a real opportunity to stay fit without making it undaunting. We have offered at-home workouts through Facebook Live, cooking classes, meditation, and are expanding these offers via our technology roadmap and a greater focus on mental health, physical health no matter where they are.”

Fortunately, many of these businesses have survived the pandemic due to the payment protection program (PPP) loans from the Small Business Administration. Now, they will ease into reopening as the governor will slowly continue to lift restrictions based on the number of cases within a given region.

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Joseph Wolkin
Joseph Wolkin is the editor of the Levittown Tribune, Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Anton Media Group's automotive special section and county news section. A graduate of Stony Brook University, Joseph has been published in dozens of publications. He is the author of Grandma: The Story Of A Boy And His Grandma.

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