Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday morning that gyms and fitness clubs can open as soon as next Monday, Aug. 24 provided operators abide by state guidelines to help ensure health and safety.
Guidelines include limiting capacity to 33 percent, requiring masks be worn at all times while MERV-13 filters must be installed for air handling systems. Cuomo said local municipalities and county health departments have until Sept. 2 to inspect each club to make sure they comply with all of the state’s standards. Local authorities will also determine whether a health club may conduct indoor classes.
Asked why the guidelines to reopen gyms took longer than many other types of businesses, Cuomo said there was concern that if it’s not done correctly, it could lead to a spike in infections.
“I would say it’s not the hardest (industry to reopen) but it’s an area of concern,” he said. “That’s why we went slow on it and that’s why we focused on it.”
Clubs will also be required to maintain a sheet that all visitors must sign when arriving and leaving to help with contract tracing should there be a positive case and six feet of separation must be maintained between all machines and patrons.
Cleaning and disinfection supplies must also be made available. Shared equipment must be cleaned after every use and staff must also be available to clean and disinfect the equipment. Water refilling stations will be permitted but not shared water fountains.
On Monday, Cuomo said daily COVID-19 transmission rates have been below 1 percent for 10 consecutive days statewide, helping to make the case for health clubs to reopen. On Sunday, it fell to 0.71 percent, the lowest since the start of the crisis.
When reached early Monday afternoon, Rick Beusman, president of the Saw Mill Club and Saw Mill Club East in Mount Kisco, said he wasn’t well-versed in all of the specifics of the plan, but was happy he and his fellow operators were now receiving the same deference as other industries. He did express concern, however, that 33 percent capacity was a low number.
“We’re gratified that we’re finally getting some direction and some guidelines,” Beusman said. “The details will tell us more explicitly about what can happen.”
Bill Beck, president of Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor and Jefferson Valley, had joined Beusman and operators from other area fitness centers for a press conference in Mount Kisco last Thursday calling on the state for action. He and other operators had anticipated that they would be able to reopen with the start of Phase 4 in the Mid-Hudson region on July 7.
But Cuomo, citing escalating virus transmission rates in other parts of the United States linked to the operation of gyms, kept them shuttered for five months.
Club Fit and the Saw Mill Club, bot part of the New York State Fitness Alliance to press for a reopening, had worked on plans that were submitted to the state outlining reduced attendance and equipment, mandatory face coverings at all times and enhanced cleaning protocols.
Beck said that Club Fit have already implemented or were about to implement many of the new guidelines.
While other operators across New York launched litigation against the state when prohibited to reopen for Phase 4, Saw Mill Club and Club Fit were among the clubs that joined the newly-formed Fitness Alliance to convince Cuomo and state health officials that protocols could be developed to ensure safety.
Last week, Cuomo also announced that bowling alleys were allowed to operate Monday at up to 50 percent capacity as long as everyone is wearing face coverings, adjoining lanes are not used simultaneously and any food service is by waiter only.
Bowling alley operators will also need to establish protocols detailing cleaning and disinfection, particularly for rented and shared equipment such as shoes and bowling balls before reopening.
The governor said low-risk cultural activities in New York City, such as museums and aquariums, can also start operating on Aug. 24. Museums must limit maximum capacity to less than 25 percent, require ticketed entrance, have staggered entry times and control traffic flows.