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Gym owners, citing financial loss, present Cuomo with a plan to reopen

Charles Cassara, a Long Island gym owner and

Charles Cassara, a Long Island gym owner and head of the New York Fitness Coalition, at a news conference outside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Manhattan office Thursday, introduces a plan to reopen gyms. Credit: Charles Eckert

A group representing hundreds of gym owners presented Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with a plan to reopen and petitioned him for a meeting to discuss potential safety protocols, saying they deserve a chance to save their businesses from shutdown-induced financial ruin.

The plan, outlined in a news conference outside the governor’s Manhattan office Thursday morning, includes monthly testing that would assess the cleanliness of surfaces, a grading system that would be monitored by a third party, special filters, electrostatic disinfecting and reduced gym capacity.

“Do we not matter?” asked Charles Cassara, a Long Island gym owner and head of the New York Fitness Coalition, which represents around 700 gyms and began after the businesses weren’t allowed to open during Phase 4. “Do these businesses not matter? Do the 2,000 gyms not matter? Do the 4 million gym goers not matter? Do the 80,000 people we employ not matter? The stakes are as high as they’re going to get.”  

The coalition has teamed up with TrustedSafe, a Stony Brook-based organization that certifies that businesses are following protocols set out by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Kingsbridge Strategies, a government relations and public affairs firm attempting to facilitate the meeting. The hope, Cassara said, is to sit down with representatives from the governor’s office and the department of health. Gyms would be graded monthly with an A, B, or C, and those with a C rating would then work with TrustedSafe to get in compliance within 48 hours.

Asked to comment on the group's request, a representative from the governor's office pointed to remarks Cuomo made soon after the news conference, where he said he did not believe it was safe to open gyms. 

"We know gyms are highly problematic, not from our experience because we haven’t opened them, but we know from the other states," Cuomo said. Those states have "opened them and they've had to close them...I don't think that it's the time to [open]. We’re precariously perched. And again, I applaud New Yorkers because they're the ones who have found this perch in the sea of spread but it's only a function of our intelligence and our discipline."

Robert Mujica, director of the state division of the budget, said they're examining various plans put forth by gyms "every day" but that there is no current workable reopening solution.   

"We're looking at various alternatives but right now it's still high-risk activity," he said. "As we're seeing increases in other states and clusters in other states, we’ll continue to remain closed until we think they can open safely."

Kevin Godfrey, owner of TrustedSafe, said gyms can reopen using enhanced versions of the standards and practices that have proved successful for other businesses.

“It’s evidenced by the 97 percent of businesses that have been allowed to reopen with an infection rate that’s dropping,” he said. “We do have the governor to thank for that…and we ask that he doesn’t deny us the right to sit at the table and discuss our submitted protocol.”

Cassara, who has gyms in Hicksville and Farmingdale,  along with  other gym owners, are also suing Cuomo, the attorney general and the state for “irreparable harm” caused to their businesses, arguing that Cuomo’s decision to keep gyms closed is unconstitutional. Though the attorney general is required to show cause, or respond, by Aug. 13, they’ve received no word from the state yet, Cassara said. They're suing for $500 million in lost revenue.

Silence from the governor’s office is “frustrating,” Cassara said, “but it’s also a sign of disrespect.”

“We have no guidance from our governor. We have no financial relief…For weeks, we’ve had no idea on when we can return to work and provide for our families or help our communities.”

Michele Gretano, an NYFC council member and owner of CrossFit Bridge & Tunnel, in Ridgewood, said reopening could be an integral part of fighting the virus, since those with comorbidities are more likely to die from COVID-19.

“We are in the business of preventative health care,” she said. “We are not an amusement or recreation facility. This doesn’t sound like mini golf or Coney Island to me. This is a space where you can feel better, heal injuries, receive sound nutritional advice and improve overall health.”

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