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New York Gyms Are Reopening Next Week—But There’s a Catch

Zoe Weiner

Zoe WeinerAugust 18, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Ale Ventura

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that gyms across New York State may begin reopening on August 24 (and no later than September 2). But people living in New York City will have to wait a little bit longer to return to their favorite brick-and-mortar locations.

In other parts of the state, gyms will be allowed to open under a new set of guidelines that include operating at 33 percent of regular capacity, maintaining feet of social distancing, and recording attendance with a sign-in sheet to ensure accurate contact tracing in the case of an outbreak. Staff and members must also wear masks. Cleaning schedules will be ramped up, and class times will be spaced out in order to allow for sufficient disinfecting between sessions.

However, Cuomo’s order leaves it up to local officials to decide the best course of action for their jurisdictions, which means that city studios may not be opening so quickly. “We’re very concerned about indoor settings,” NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio told NY1 on Monday. “The state was right to make sure that there was local decision making on a lot of important specifics. We are going to be very cautious with that local decision making and choose to take a conservative approach.” Gyms across the state will need to undergo inspections before they’re able to reopen, and the mayor’s office plans to prioritize inspecting schools and day care centers, which means it’s unlikely that many city gyms will open next week. For now, there’s no clear timeline on when it will happen.

Given the risks associated with indoor workouts, it makes sense that NYC is choosing to proceed with caution. According to the CDC, the virus is mainly spread “between people who are in close contact (within about six feet) of one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, or possibly be inhaled into their lungs. It may also be possible that the disease is spread when someone touches a surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or nose. According to health experts, the risk level for infection at gyms may be higher than in other indoor areas because people are breathing more heavily when they exercise.

“The gym is up there in places where you would have the highest risk for the spread of the Coronavirus,” Jason Tetro, microbiologist and author of The Germ Files told Well+Good back in March. “You have a lot of people who are exerting themselves, which means they’re breathing a lot and may be sputtering and coughing. And if these people are starting to get sick or develop the infection, there’s a likelihood that they may be spreading that from their lungs into the environment around them.”

All things considered, you may be better off sticking to fail-safe options like at-home and outdoor workouts. “We can put up these layers of protection so people can complete a screening questionnaire before they go to the gym and they could be screened for fever when they enter the building, and gyms can do enhanced cleaning and those sorts of things,” says Jennifer Horney, PhD, the founding director of the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program. “But if it were me, I’d probably choose to [do something] outside, where you can be relatively socially distanced from people.”

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