ALBANY, N.Y. — Local fitness center owners from the Capital Region were joined by local elected officials recently to call for an increase in capacity to 50% for gyms and fitness centers.
This comes following updated CDC guidance as of February 2021, for fitness facilities that recommends using the occupational hazard hierarchy of controls and combining controls to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
The CDC report notes facilities should increase or improve ventilation by maximizing fresh air delivered to occupied spaces; increasing filter efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units; using portable high-efficiency particulate air filtration units where indicated; and ensuring that fans do not direct air from one patron to another.
Additional engineering and administrative controls include modifying fitness areas to provide more than six feet of physical distance between patrons, installing physical barriers, making foot traffic flow in a single direction, using visual cues for physical distancing, and adding hand sanitizer stations. Adding multiple engineering and administrative controls, including enforcing consistent and correct mask use for staff members and patrons, cleaning with Environmental Protection Agency–registered products for surface disinfection, and reducing facility occupancy and class sizes, are recommended to further reduce transmission risk.
Yet fitness centers across the state note they have continued to follow vigorous safety measures that have been put into place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to safely open indoor fitness activities. Under these strict safety measures, fitness centers can continue to provide New Yorkers a place to exercise with an increased capacity limit.
“We have continued to see that with proper sanitization protocols in place, people can safely return to their workout routines,” Assemblyman John McDonald III stated.
“Daily exercise, if done safely, will lead to better physical, mental and emotional health. The downward trend of COVID-19 cases in our hospitals and the state’s decreasing rate of transmission, allows us to consider expanding fitness center capacity without leading to undue stress,” McDonald explained.
The NYS Fitness Alliance conducted a survey of gym and fitness centers in January and found capacity limits are adversely affecting the industry and minimal instances of contact tracing linked to fitness centers have been reported. According to the data, all New York fitness centers reported being impacted by capacity restrictions; 32% reported being either severely impacted or not viable due to the restrictions.
When asked what level of restricted capacity would allow their facilities to be viable and still safely implement social distancing, 49% of participants pointed to an increase in capacity to 50%, and 30% of participants pointed to an increase in capacity to 66%. All respondents said that capacity could be safely increased to 50% or greater while maintaining social distancing – a measure that would ensure the viability of the business.
Fifty percent of respondents indicated that capacity could be increased to 66% or 75% while maintaining social distancing protocols.
The survey data showed just three locations reported having been contacted through contact tracing efforts while tracking more than one million visits – a .0003% rate. In addition to following all safety and public health protocols enforced by the State, the survey revealed that no respondents had been reported for any guideline violations.
“Due to capacity restrictions, many of our members are not able to access the safe exercise classes they rely on to stay healthy,” Paola Horvath, Franchise Owner, Orangetheory Fitness said.
“Fitness studios conduct instructor-led classes for their business, which means all classes are overseen by a professional who can enforce public safety protocols. Smaller facilities are particularly disadvantaged by low capacity restrictions – but are well equipped to enforce social distancing and cleaning protocols. As New York’s positivity rate continues to fall, it’s critical to responsibly expand access to exercise facilities so more New Yorkers can improve their mental and physical health,” Horvath noted.
“Advancing the mental and physical health of our members is our core function and the data shows that we can do that at an even greater capacity than is currently allowed,” Bill Lia, Chair of New York State Fitness Alliance remarked.
“This is true of facilities of all sizes – large facilities allow for social distancing capabilities and studios host supervised classes led by instructors who can enforce health and safety measures. Throughout the pandemic, fitness centers have gone above and beyond to advance the health and safety of the public, it’s time to expand access to exercise facilities,” Lia added.
The national impact of COVID-19 on the fitness industry has been immense.
With the loss of 1.4 million jobs and the permanent closing of 6,000 gyms, this leaves roughly 12.2 million Americans left without their preferred place to exercise. While the NYS Fitness Alliance believes that fitness centers across the State can continue safe workouts, and meet safety protocols with a 50% capacity limit, the Alliance also believes this capacity increase could lead to the recovery of jobs and businesses saved.