The state has put several requirements in place regarding capacity, screening and ventilation

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that gyms across New York can start to reopen Aug. 24 under strict COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Municipalities will have to inspect the facilities by Sept. 2 as part of the reopening.

"Localities have a role here," Cuomo announced at a briefing. "They need to inspect the gyms before they open or within two weeks of their opening to make sure they are meeting all the requirements."

Here's what will be required, according to state officials:

• Patrons will have to wear masks at all times and maintain social distancing of 6 feet.

• Gyms can only open to 33% of capacity, and equipment needs to be cleaned after every use.

• Local officials will have to decide whether indoor classes can be allowed. There will be sign-in forms to track who is entering and leaving.

• COVID-19 screenings will be recommended, which could including temperature checks.

• The ventilation systems will need to meet certain standards, such as being at least MERV-13 or greater, to help prevent the virus from spreading.

• Water bottle refill stations can be permitted, but not shared water fountains

• Communal showers are closed, but individual showers/stalls can remain open so long as they are cleaned in between use.

 

'The constant tension'

Cuomo said the gym reopenings are being allowed because the state has kept its coronavirus infection rates to below 1% in recent weeks. In fact, he announced Monday that New York had 10 straight days with rates below 1%

"You need to get the economy back up. You need to get life moving forward. So that’s the constant tension you are trying to walk, and so far we’ve walked it right," Cuomo said.

Gyms were shuttered in mid-March as the pandemic struck the state, killing more than 25,000 people in the state.

Bowling alleys were able to open Monday to 50% of capacity and with masks required and other precautions.

Some other large venues remain closed, though, such as movie theaters and casinos.

Museums, aquariums and other low-risk indoor cultural venues will be allowed to open in New York City on Aug. 24 with various COVID-19 restrictions, including operating at 25% occupancy capacity. In upstate communities, museums and other indoor venues opened previously.

Gyms had been slated to reopen in Phase 4 of the state's COVID-19 reopening process, which was largely met in June.

But Cuomo kept gyms closed, citing ongoing concerns about indoor spaces.

Gyms have been clamoring to reopen.

More than 2,000 fitness-related businesses in New York have joined in a class-action lawsuit against the state tied to the delayed reopening.

But Cuomo said the onus will be on the gym owners and localities to keep the places safe by ensuring proper social distancing, mask wearing and sanitary measures.

 

Preparing to reopen

Gyms said they will try to adapt to the new rules, and it could take some time before they are ready to reopen.

Ken Williams, general manager of Anytime Fitness in downtown Rochester, said the gym has always operated with a 24/7 business model with personal training classes.

“I’m not certain that we are going to be able to open right away with 24 hour access," he said after Cuomo's announced. “I’m optimistically excited, but again we are formulating our strategy as we speak.”

Williams also noted that gyms might be hard pressed to have the money to install new ventilation systems if that is what local health officials demand.

“I think a lot of gyms are in that position," he said. "There are a lot of smaller, independent gyms as well, the mom and pop gyms, which may not have the funds at the moment to purchase a new ventilation system if required.”

Enrique Viveros, owner of Snap Fitness in Elmira, said Monday he and his team are “extremely excited” to reopen.

“During this pandemic the need for being healthy and fit has been highlighted and we are delighted that finally we have been given again the opportunity to provide this essential service,” he said.

In June, Viveros made a number of preemptive changes in the facility, in the hopes of being permitted to open along with other Phase 4 industries.

He replaced all HVAC system filters with hospital-grade filters, created new checklists to ensure staff and members keep the facility clean and installed disinfecting stations throughout the gym.

Signs describing safe distancing practices were posted and a new policy Viveros called a “people counter system” would track the number of people in the facility to monitor occupancy.

“The purpose of our industry is to change lives, and we are sure that people now will have again the opportunity to get back on track with their goals and feel closer to normal again,” Viveros said.

“We are looking forward to seeing everyone in our community again, we have missed everyone.”

Sportsplex, Orange County's largest gym, will be ready to reopen its doors to members after being forced to shut them out since March, according to owner Mark Savage.

"There's not a whole lot we need to do," said Savage, adding that he has closely followed what other countries and states have done to safely reopen gyms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're prepared."

The gym used to have 1,400 paying members prior to the pandemic, but estimates it will have lost about 60% of its membership as people choose to workout outside or in their own homes, Savage said.

Members who choose to come back, or who sign-up to get in shape post-quarantine, will have a safe facility to work in, Savage vowed.

"If we don't do it right, we're not going to stay open," Savage said.