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Cuomo: Gyms allowed to reopen starting Aug. 24, as coronavirus cases stay low

Newsday's Cecilia Dowd takes a tour of Long Island Health And Racquet in Wantagh, where pandemic protocols are in place. Credit: Howard Schnapp; File footage

Gyms across New York, closed since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, will be allowed to reopen starting next Monday if they follow strict regulations and meet the approval of local governments, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.

Cuomo outlined the restrictions as he pointed out New York — once a hot spot for COVID-19 — now has one of the lowest infection rates in the country.

Local health departments will have to inspect gyms before they can open, with elected officials making the final call, Cuomo said. They are being given until Sept. 2 to get those plans together and be approved to open their doors.

"Gyms are one of the areas where you have to be very careful," Cuomo said during a news conference in Manhattan. "If it's not done right, it can be a problem and we've seen that … Compliance is what I am concerned about."

More than 425,000 people in New York have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, including 44,185 in Suffolk County and 43,955 in Nassau County.

While the spread has slowed across the state in recent months, infections have surged in other parts of the United States, which has reported a total of 5.2 million cases and 167,257 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Gyms will be allowed to operate at about one third of their capacity, or 33%. Wearing masks will be mandated at all times, the state said, and the facilities must have proper ventilation and filtration systems.

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Local authorities will decide if gyms will be allowed to hold classes. Sign-in forms will also be required to know how to locate patrons if there's any potential exposure to the virus, the state said.

Cuomo said he felt some "trepidation" about enforcement of the guidelines for gyms, comparing it to the reopening of bars and restaurants, where he repeatedly has complained about lax enforcement from local governments.

Some gym enthusiasts, though, had been waiting for this news.

"I'm pretty pumped," said Larry Hipp, 33, who used to work out five or six times a week at SC Fitness locations in Farmingdale and Hicksville before they were shut down due to the pandemic. "I mean, who wants to work out in their backyard or in their driveway by themselves, looking at a computer screen, when you could be in a class of 10 people motivating each other and seeing your friends? … I'm definitely looking forward to getting back in."

Jamie Scher, owner of Plainview’s Namaste the Yoga Spa, has petitioned the governor’s office for weeks to be allowed to open while making sure her business had proper ventilation and cleaning plans. While she saw Monday’s announcement as a victory, she was concerned at the impact it might have on businesses.

Scher said her studio can afford to operate at 33% capacity but other gyms may not. Wearing a mask could be challenging for people who take part in high-intensity workouts or even hot yoga.

“I think it’s going to create a hardship and also a danger,” Scher said. “I’m looking on Facebook right now, and people are writing, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do my Zumba class with a mask on? How am I going to have my hot yoga class with a mask on?' ”

The reopening of gyms comes as the state also has eased restrictions on bowling alleys, which opened their doors for the first time since the pandemic on Monday. New York City museums are also set to reopen next Monday. School districts are currently reviewing plans with parents and teachers on returning students to classrooms. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran welcomed the move to reopen gyms, saying she had toured fitness facilities in the county "and they stand ready to reopen."

She added in a statement: “We are eager to receive and review the state’s guidance. Just as our incredible health department has met every challenge brought on by the pandemic, they are gearing up to take on the task of streamlining approvals for Nassau’s 200-plus gyms to get them back in business as safely and quickly as possible."

Ten days of new cases below 1%

For the 10th day in a row, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the state is less than 1%. Specifically, 0.7% of all people tested had confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, Cuomo said, noting New York has one of the lowest infection rates in the country.

“On all the numbers, it’s good news … Congratulations to New Yorkers. They did what people said couldn’t be done,” he said.

Across the state, 534 people remained hospitalized due to the coronavirus, with 133 in intensive care units, affirming a continued decline in patients since the peak of the crisis in the spring. Infection levels remained low across all of the state's regions.

Six people died of coronavirus-related causes in hospitals on Sunday, bringing the grim death toll in New York to 25,256.

The rate of new positive COVID-19 cases was 0.6% for Long Island and 0.9% for New York City, the state figures show.

Nassau and Suffolk each recorded an additional 26 cases on Sunday, while New York City had 235 new positives. And 408 people of the 56,891 tested statewide were confirmed positive on Sunday, the state reported.

Northwell Health on Monday said it had 74 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates. The largest health system in the state said it had only two COVID-19 related admissions over the last 24 hours on Long Island, one in Huntington and one at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. It had six admissions in total.

The state's task force, comprised of inspectors from the state Liquor Authority and the State Police, completed recent compliance checks on 3,375 bars and restaurants to make sure they were following regulations on social distancing and wearing face coverings, in an effort to reduce COVID-19 infections. They issued violations to 66 locations, Cuomo said, and suspended the licenses of 16 businesses.

One of those businesses whose license was suspended was the Mio Posto restaurant in Long Beach. The state said that Long Beach Police responded on Aug. 8 to complaints of loud music at that location and found about 20 patrons gathered outside. Another 200 were inside, despite a maximum occupancy of 145 under pandemic-time regulations. "Approximately half of the patrons were in a room with no tables, standing, drinking, ignoring social distancing guidelines, and not wearing facial coverings," the state said.

The restaurant could not immediately be reached for comment.

Airing school reopening concerns

Cuomo also reiterated the requirement that school districts must discuss reopening plans with parents and teachers, and to consider their concerns. Districts do not have to open if they are not ready to implement measures against spread of the virus, he said.

“The question then becomes how, and that is a big question. How do they reopen? When do they reopen? … That is up to the local school districts and the people who are going to make the decision are not a bunch of bureaucrats. It is going to be the parents and the teachers."

He said opening schools "has proven problematic" in other places and the risks need to be weighed carefully in each community.

While movie theaters have started to reopen across the country, Cuomo said there are currently no plans to do so in New York.

"On a relative scale, a movie theater is less essential and it poses a high risk," he said. "It is congregate. It is one ventilation system. You are seated there for a long period of time … gyms for more New Yorkers are more essential than movie theaters."

With David Reich-Hale

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Going to the gym

Gov. Cuomo announced new state rules for reopening of gyms and fitness centers across the state, starting Aug. 24 and by Sept. 2. The reopening of those facilities will be subject to local review and inspection. Here are some of the new regulations gyms must follow:

  • Capacity is capped at 33% of occupancy limit.
  • All members must sign in with contact information and have a health screening.
  • Face coverings are required at all times.
  • Equipment must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
  • Classes can be by appointment or reservation only, when allowed by the local governments. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet must be observed.
  • Shared water fountains will not be permitted, and communal showers are closed. Water bottle filling stations and individual showers are permitted.

SOURCE: New York State

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