CAPITAL REGION — While New Yorkers still can’t go to the gym legally according to the state’s Phase 4 standards, fitness center owners are working hard to convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo that they can reopen safely.
Three local members of the state Assembly spoke during a press conference held Thursday in Latham by the NYS Fitness Alliance, a group of gym owners and members who have drafted a list of safety standards needed in order to reopen.
“The industry has worked together to put together a plan that everybody can say ‘this is how we’re going to operate,’” said Assembly member John McDonald, who represents the 108th district.
While the Fitness Alliance released its plan on June 30, Gov. Cuomo has yet to respond to the organization about how and when gyms can reopen.
Meanwhile, gym enthusiasts say it’s not just keeping in shape that they’re missing: working out can be a therapeutic and motivational activity.
“When I started at VENT fitness, it was for the physical fitness and health. Over the years, it became more about my mental health,” said Angel Willis, a local gym member who spoke at the NYS Fitness Alliance event.
“There’s nothing like being there in the gym, next to people that you know love and support you and want the best for you,” she said. Willis said the gym has helped her overcome diabetes and come down from the 300 pounds she weighed years ago.
Concern over the spread of coronavirus in gyms isn’t unfounded: in South Korea, one study identified 112 people who became infected from a dozen fitness facilities in February.
However, both gym-goers and owners alike argue that in the over 40 states where gyms have been allowed to reopen, there have been minimal reported cases of members getting COVID-19.
The NYS Fitness Alliance’s plan is an eight-page document laying out protocols including employee health screenings, 50% facility capacity limits, and floor markings to keep gym members 6 feet or more apart while exercising.
Ravi Durvasula, M.D., professor of infectious disease at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, endorsed the plan in a letter sent to the Fitness Alliance.
“I have reviewed coronavirus mitigation practices at a variety of public venues, including nursing homes, restaurants, bars and department stores. Your proposal is one of the most thorough approaches I have encountered and I concur with your plans,” wrote Durvasula.
At Orangetheory Fitness, dedicated members have recently started joining outdoor classes held in the parking lots of the Albany and Clifton Park branches.
“I feed off of the energy that’s in this place,” said Orangetheory member Nick Latal, who works as a mail room employee in Latham. “And it changes me in a way that I actually can’t describe in words. It’s unreal. The whole day is just a different ballgame afterwards.”
Latal said he has total confidence in Orange Theory’s safety standards and would attend indoor classes as soon as they were available.
“I’d wear a hazmat suit if I needed to,” Latal joked. “Hopefully, that’s not required.”
Ultimately, whether and when indoor gyms can reopen is up to Gov. Cuomo. Local assembly members hope they can bring the issue to the top of the Governor’s priority list.
“The Governor is looking at the science and has generally done a good job, better than a lot of governors. I don’t think the Governor as one person is the repository of all knowledge on this subject matter,” said Assemblyman Phil Steck, who represents the 110th District. “I myself voted against giving the Governor these emergency powers to simply legislate by executive order.”
“I always felt that there needed to be room for us to do what we’re doing today, which is to advocate for our constituents in a more systematic way.”
Steck and McDonald, along with Assembly member Patricia Fahy of the 109th District, plan to send another letter to Cuomo urging him to allow gyms to reopen. Fahy and Steck said their work to get malls to reopen was a similar fight.
“With the shopping malls, we’re quite proud of that because we have not seen any problems,” said Fahy. “Just as Lowe’s has been open since day one, they’ve done it responsibly, and the rest can too.”