Gyms Remain Closed While Gov. Cuomo Investigates If Air Conditioners Contain Spread Of Virus

By: Catherine Sasso

Gyms remain closed while Gov. Cuomo investigates if air conditioners contain spread of virus Co-Owner of Evolve Fitness, Elizabeth Ulfik, shares what she had planned to reopen her business before Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the pause on gyms. (Photo by Catherine Sasso)

NORWICH – On Wednesday, June 24, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that gyms, malls, and movie theaters would not begin to reopen in phase four like originally planned.

"There are some reports that malls, bars, certain social clubs with air conditioning, that air conditioning might not be cleansing the air of the virus and just recirculating the virus. So we are studying that and as soon as we get some more information we'll make an informed decision," said Cuomo.

Business owners were discouraged to hear they would not be included in the next phase of the reopening just two days before they were anticipating reopening their doors.

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According to a Tuesday article in the Associated Press by CNHI News Service Reporter Joe Mahoney a number of businesses complained. In an article headlined “Malls will need special ventilation filters to open, Cuomo says,” Mahoney wrote:

“That has led to complaints from mall operators such as the Pyramid Management Corp, which owns a string of malls across the upstate region, including Destiny USA outside Syracuse.”

“The malls and their advocates contend it is unfair for the state to keep them closed while some big box department stores that also sell groceries, such as Walmart and Target stores, have been allowed to remain open throughout the public health crisis that reached New York in March.”

“The concerns with indoor gathering stem in part from recent outbreaks of the contagion in other states that Cuomo said moved too rapidly in reopening their economies. Those concerns have led to new considerations about reopening restaurants in New York City. New Jersey, meanwhile, has scrapped its plan to reopen restaurants Thursday because of similar concerns.

But Cuomo, at a stop in New York City, suggested reviews of the ability of equipping ventilation systems with high quality filters “offers promise”.”

Co-Owner of Evolve Fitness in Norwich Elizabeth Ulfik said her business is as ready as it can be during the pandemic to reopen.

"Like most gym owners we were frustrated that we were not included in the phase four reopening. We do understand the caution our state officials are taking. We do not want to go back to a shut down due to moving forward without caution. We believe there must be a middle ground," said Ulfik.

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Ulfik had made cleaning plans and implemented a new gym layout that would allow for members to maintain social distancing during their workout and increased the sanitation of equipment.

"Our plan included closing our saunas temporarily and providing touch free hand sanitizer stations in the gym areas. We also increased our cleaning rotation to include a deep clean of the equipment during the morning and evening shifts every day. We eliminated the shared spray bottles and went to providing each member with their own spray bottle and towel to wipe down equipment. After use each spray bottle and towel, they’re left at the front desk to be washed and sanitized before use again," said Ulfik.

"We spaced out some of our equipment to eight feet so members can have more than enough space to complete their work outs while social distancing. We maintenanced all our cardio equipment and spaced them out so members can safely use the equipment. In our sally-port area we provide hand sanitizer and bleach wipes for members to disinfect when entering and leaving the gym to prevent the spread of the virus. We also would encourage members to wear masks only if they were just socializing between workouts and try to maintain social distancing," said Ulfik.

Ulfik said she would like to see more advocacy on the state level to provide small businesses with financial relief.

"We would like to open as safely and as quickly as we can. We value the safety of our members and staff above all else. We would like to see state officials offer more assistance to small business owners with the accumulation of overhead during the shut down much of these bills will be due and working with companies and landlords to offer subsidies to offset these costs during a time when no income was flowing would be a great help. The american small business is the backbone of this country, it is important we insulate this sector from the economic crisis created by this pandemic."

New York State Assemblyman Cliff Crouch sent a letter to the governor asking him to rethink his decision. The letter was signed by 32 other assemblymen and assemblywomen.

"I have heard from gym and fitness center owners in my district who have expressed frustrations and concerns that if they do not open soon, they may never open their doors again. In rural Upstate New York, our gyms do not have the luxury of having a large customer base like those in metropolitan areas and should not be held to the same standard as gyms in cities which often experience overcrowding," said Crouch in his letter.

Crouch also counters that gyms are a necessary business that could help slow the spread of the virus.

"Gyms play not only a crucial role in the physical health and fitness of New Yorkers, but also contribute to mental health, which surely has taken toll during the NYS on PAUSE initiative. Studies have shown that regular exercise and fitness, as well as good sleeping and eating habits, play crucial roles in boosting one’s immune system, which could ultimately play a role in how badly COVID-19 affects an individual who contracts the virus."

With aid from gym owners, Crouch suggested the following guidelines to reopen gyms safely; Limited occupancy starting at 25 percent, with a slow phase into 50 percent, 75 percent, and then finally full capacity. Masks required in common areas (i.e. locker rooms, reception and entry areas). No facilities open 24 hours seven days a week. Require reduced hours, and increase maintenance, cleaning, and sanitizing hours. Require detailed sanitation plans. Proper social distancing between equipment. Ample cleaning stations throughout gym for members to clean equipment before and after use. Keep logs of all members using facility in the event of a confirmed case.


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