OSWEGO — Five months after their closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, local gyms and preparing to open their doors to patrons on Monday, albeit with some significant restrictions in place.
Gyms were closed in mid-March as the state shuttered all non-essential businesses and the facilities and their owners have watched in limbo while other industries re-opened. State officials this week issued guidance for re-opening fitness centers starting Aug. 24 with protective measures, including limiting occupancy and maintaining social distancing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week announced the possible re-opening of gyms and fitness centers, but noted the facilities would be subject to health and safety standards. Prior to re-opening, fitness centers must submit safety plans and certification of their heating and ventilation systems to local health officials, who are required to inspect the facilities before the doors are re-opened or within two weeks of re-opening.
Local fitness center owners expressed excitement about reopening next week, though some lamented the prolonged closures that forced some of their peers to shut their doors permanently. Several local gyms say they’ll be ready to open their doors on Monday, while others said additional time is needed to comply with the mandates.
“We are going to be 100 percent ready to open on Monday,” said Infinity Fitness co-owner Robert Berkley, who noted his West First Street facility was ready to open weeks ago before the state altered its protocols and pushed back the re-opening date.
“While it's encouraging that we've reached the point where it's acceptable for them to begin reopening in our communities, this is not the time to forget that the pandemic is ongoing,” Cuomo said. “New Yorkers must closely adhere to the guidelines and local health departments are required to strictly enforce them to help ensure gyms and fitness centers reopen safely and protect the public health.”
State guidelines include but are not limited to:
• a 33 percent occupancy limit
• appropriate face coverings at all times
• six-feet distancing at all times
• cleaning and disinfectant supplies made available to customers
• shared equipment cleaned after each use
• staff available to clean between uses
• classes by appointment and/or reservation only
• water bottle refill stations are permitted, but not shared water fountains
• air handling systems operating at MERV-13 or greater, or adopt additional ventilation and mitigation protocols
Patrons will also be required to sign in with contact information and be subjected to a health screening. Full guidance documents can be found under Phase 4 industries at the NY Forward website https://forward.ny.gov/
The state guidelines apply to a wide variety of fitness activities and facilities, including those in hotels, offices and standalone establishments.
Berkley said the only major change the facility had to make in order to re-open was an upgrade to the heating and ventilation filters to the MERV-13 rating.
Patrons visiting Infinity next week are likely to notice sanitizing stations throughout the facility for both hands and workout equipment, Berkley said, and the gym plans to have additional personnel on hand to help with cleaning.
Berkley said the gym would be staffed at all times, and there would be a 70-minute time limit for patrons in order to adhere to the 33 percent capacity requirements. He said employees would either enforce the 70-minute limit or make sure incoming patrons wait if the occupancy limits are reached.
Jessica Baldwin, owner of Hardcore Fit in Fulton, said her facility is also planning to re-open on Monday with a variety of measures in place to adhere to the state-mandated regulations. Baldwin moved her location to a larger space at the Bayou Skating Rink on state Route 3 in order to properly maintain distancing and meet the state's ventilation requirements.
“We'll be socially distanced and everything will be sanitized,” Baldwin said, adding the facility would have UV lights to sanitize equipment between uses in addition to traditional disinfectants. Hardcore Fit is also setting up a system to check patron temperatures and establish a symptoms log.
Baldwin said she's excited to re-open, but also noted it's been hectic to both move her facility and meet all the state's requirements.
The Oswego YMCA does not plan to be open Monday, according to Executive Director Kerrie Ann Webb, but is set to open later next week and the organization is excited to reopen its doors to patrons.
“We're ready and it's going to be pretty amazing,” Webb said. “We've done a tremendous amount of improvements to the building and purchased some new equipment. We can't wait to get our members back in here.”
Capacity limitations would not be an issue at the YMCA, Webb said, as the organization is planning a phased reopening through a reservation system that members can call to set up a 30-, 60- or 90-minute time block. Hand sanitizing stations have been set up throughout the YMCA, she said, and the fitness centers would also be closed from noon to 2 p.m. each day for deep cleaning between morning and afternoon sessions.
Outdoor and virtual classes will continue for the time being, Webb said, as the organization is working to keep staff and members safe throughout the phased reopening. For in-facility classes, Webb said there would be floor markers to maintain socially distancing, and noted all patrons would be screened before entering the building.
Berkley said the long-awaited reopening is a bit anticlimactic, pointing to two previous expectations of reopening that were ultimately canceled. Though there's some excitement about reopening Monday, Berkley said the extensive regulations put additional stresses on an already reeling industry that was forced to shut its doors for nearly six months.
“It's not a relief for us or anything like that because we have all these bills and everything else coming in,” Berkley said, noting Infinity was lucky to be able to “weather the storm,” but other gyms in the area were ultimately forced to close.