Gyms: Work out rules for reopening

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Two area state lawmakers have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue guidance and a timeline for reopening gyms and fitness centers still shut by COVID-19 restrictions.

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47, Rome, and Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy, said in their letter that several owners of the still-restricted businesses have made detailed plans based on guidance for best practices to limit the spread of COVID-19 that were given to other industries but have not gotten any direction from state government about their own.

“This lack of guidance hurts the entire fitness industry, but particularly hurts our small, locally-owned gyms and fitness centers,” Griffo and Buttenschon said in their letter, dated Tuesday.

“These business owners fear for their ability to survive and prosper due to significant financial and operational stress. On the other hand, constituents who make use of these facilities and who take their fitness classes are concerned about their ability to maintain their health while these facilities remain closed.”

The category that includes gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios and similar operations were originally in the group covered by the fourth phase of region-by-region reopening phases. But when Cuomo gave the go-ahead for the fourth phase in late June, they had been removed.

At the same time, the fitness industry has not received state recommendations, or guidance, on best practices to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 when it is allowed to reopen. Such guidance for other types of businesses and non-profit organization typically lays out social distancing minimums, rules for mask wearing, cleaning and disinfection procedures, and modifications to buildings.

“The not knowing and not having any guidance is very frustrating,” said Nicole Hayman-Sherman, owner of Just Breathe Yoga Studio on North James Street in Rome.

“They’ve released guidance to the schools even though we don’t even know for sure he’s going to allow them to reopen … I would like just guidance to put a final plan together.”

Some things are obvious, Hayman-
Sherman said, like social distancing at six feet at least, and keeping traffic in and out and within the building one-way as much as possible, and cleaning and sanitizing.

From a national forum for owners of yoga studios, she’s learned about other states’ rules, but that’s little help since they vary so much. New Jersey is requiring masks, which may not be ideal in yoga, while Massachusetts allows six-foot distancing among participants wearing masks but 14 feet if they’re not. But there’s not enough to go on to fully prepare for opening whenever that might come.

As a registered yoga school, she’s been able to help meet the business’ overhead costs through online and video instruction for other instructors needing continuing education to maintain their professional credentials. And Just Breathe has provided online and YouTube programs on a donation basis, with the proceeds eventually going toward helping students who can’t afford classes once they can resume. Some parts of the studio are being modified to hybrid in-person and online sessions. But the hard part now is not knowing.

“It’s the limbo he’s thrown us in.”

At Sweat CNY on North Madison Street, owner Jaclyn Davidson said she’s moved classes online and has been able to provide some youth fitness programs as a summer camp, and has a large grassy outdoor space for outdoor workouts in good weather.

“It’s really hard to plan without knowing how far away we are to being able to open. Is it next week, is it next month,” Davidson said. “We’re coming up on six months now, so I think there’s definitely a lot of frustration not just by the business owners but for members as well from not knowing.”

Shared equipment has been removed, with free weights, kettle bells and resistance bands available for each person to use and be sanitized between sessions. The online workouts are designed to not rely on home equipment and can get the heart rate up at home using body weight, Davidson said. But the in-person venue is ready to go as well.

“We really feel like we could have been open for quite some time confidently,” Davidson said. “We have two spaces connected to each other at this point so we really have a great deal of room that we can socially distance people, and we would never at this point share any equipment. We have enough equipment for everyone to have their own and disinfect before and after.

“We leave our doors wide open. Temperature check; wear a mask if you feel like that is something you would like to do but our space is really large and open, so it’ll be really easy for us to social distance when we’re back in the gym.”

But it’s not the same as in-person and on a schedule.

“We’re such a family in our gym, the camaraderie, the cheering each other on, pushing other, checking in with each other. We miss that quite a bit, just the energy you get being in the gym together.

“A lot of us who work from home, have young kids, you’re used to being able to get out and have that time to yourself, and right now you’re just kind of lacking that time to take care of your self … That’s like their hour a day to take care of themselves. That’s important for your mental health as well, and I feel like a lot of our members are missing that.”

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