The coronavirus pandemic has kept North Carolina’s gyms and fitness centers closed, even as the state enters Phase One of reopening the economy. Meanwhile, gyms in neighboring states can open with safety precautions.
Gov. Roy Cooper in a news conference Friday reiterated the importance of social distancing and wearing face masks as he eases a few restrictions.
Although some retail stores and state parks are allowed to open in Phase One, restaurants, hair and nail salons, and gyms can’t resume business.
Meanwhile, gyms in Georgia and Tennessee have reopened. Under Virginia’s Phase One plans, gyms would be allowed to hold outside classes with limited attendance and social-distancing requirements. Virginia hasn’t entered its first phase, but when it does it will loosen more restrictions than North Carolina has.
It’s not clear when gyms or fitness centers could reopen in North Carolina, but it could come in Phase Two.
Going to the gym is considered a higher risk activity, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Even if people can practice social distancing, the spread of sweat could pose a problem, Cohen said.
“We see gyms as a Phase Two activity,” Cohen said.
Gym owners are already feeling the stress of staying closed during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Steve Pinkerton, owner of Vitality Fitness in Concord, isn’t sure his business will survive. He’s not alone.
“It’s in my best interest to manage this as smartly as I can,” Pinkerton told Carolina Journal. “If we’re not working, we’re not making money.”
Heading to the gym becomes a habit, Pinkerton said, and if people have a long enough break they may not return when fitness facilities do reopen.
“There’s a mental health aspect of this, that I really think is getting kicked to the side,” Pinkerton said in a John Locke Foundation Shaftesbury In Place event last week.
“People need that outlet. The amount of fear, and stress, and anxiety that’s getting spread around is massive. Everyone is going to cope with that in their own way,” Pinkerton said.
“Let’s provide them with a healthy outlet to deal with this.”
Pinkerton appealed directly to the state, saying he wouldn’t reopen without safety precautions such as taking clients temperatures when they arrive and installing hydroxyl generators to kill airborne viruses.
“If I open the wrong way, and people get sick, I will absolutely be affected. But we need to have that choice, and not have that choice made for us,” Pinkerton said.
State officials simply said no.
Jason Morgan, owner of Muscleworx Fitness in Wilmington, opened his gym in late April but was cited for violating Cooper’s executive order. He then applied to become an essential business, WWAY reported.
But Cooper signed a new executive order, Executive Order 138, removing “essential” and “non-essential” status from all businesses.
Gyms stayed closed.
“Twenty-five years I have worked to build this business, and in 25 seconds this governor has jerked it away again,” Morgan told the TV station last week.
YMCAs throughout the state remain closed, although many are offering virtual fitness classes, as well as child care, food distribution programs, and other resources for families. Members have the option of converting membership fees into tax-deductible donations. But the doors remain locked.
It’s a frustrating thing, Pinkerton says. Small businesses are good problem solvers, he told the Shaftesbury audience, so let them solve problems.
“But you’ve got to give us the ability to open up and be able to solve the problem,” he said. “We’ll come up with creative ways to stay within the guidelines, and keep our people employed, and provide the service that we offer. That’s the hard part … we’re just not getting the opportunity.”