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State legislators pass bill that would reopen gyms, bars

By Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — North Carolina legislators have passed a bill that would reopen gyms and fitness centers across the state while allowing Gov. Roy Cooper the flexibility to reclose them in the event of a future COVID-19 spike.

The bill will now be sent to the governor to sign or veto.

House Bill 594 has been amended several times, and it also addresses the operation of bars and restaurants. Cooper vetoed a bill last week aimed at reopening bars and allowing outdoor seating for restaurants.

HB 594 authorizes that any establishment that prepares or serves food or drink can open and operate on-premises consumption as long as certain requirements and limitations are met. For example, the establishment has to have been in existence on March 10 with all proper licenses and permits. Additionally, the bill would also prohibit municipalities and counties from prohibiting authorized outdoor seating due to zoning ordinances.

Under the bill, gyms and fitness facilities would be subject to 15 specific qualifications and requirements. Some of those requirements include a restriction to 50% capacity, employee health screenings and temperature checks and employees’ use of face masks.

Doug Warf, president of O2 Fitness, which is headquartered in Raleigh, is one of the leaders of the Fitness Operators for Responsible Reopening coalition. He said gyms across the state “dropped the ball in creating our own rules” for reopening when fitness centers weren’t apart of the phase two reopening.

From there, as there was no official organization to lobby legislators, he said, FORR became a coalition of fitness organizations, including Planet Fitness and Orange Theory. Warf encouraged consumers to visit ncfitandhealthy.org to become knowledgeable about what gym members should expect from their gyms when they reopen, as well as ensure that all established guidelines post-pandemic are being followed.

If those guidelines are followed, Warf said, “then I’d say your gym is healthier than anywhere else” you may go, particularly because of the ability to effectively social distance, he added.

Additionally, he said as people across the nation begin returning to gyms, they may view the ability to workout in-person as a privilege, making them more likely to adhere to all required safety guidelines.

Matthew Marsh, co-owner of The Forum of Salisbury, said he was disappointed when he learned fitness centers couldn’t reopen under Cooper’s phase two, particularly because he expected gyms to be treated the same as restaurants and retail businesses. But the Forum, like other gyms, have already sanitized the entire facility, he said. And gyms already have more control with surface contact and social distancing than other businesses, he added.

Marsh also said that unlike other businesses, fitness centers have remained closed for nearly three months and have received no revenue. The Forum froze membership fees and laid off all employees.

But Marsh has continued to post workout videos on Facebook Live, particularly after hearing from so many people reaching out to express they’re depressed and miss the socialization of the gym.

“We do what we can to keep them motivated,” he said.

He added that he understands it’s everyone’s personal choice to stay home if they’re uncomfortable revisiting the gym, but added that regular gym goers are among some of the most health-conscious individuals. But since new safety protocols will be in place, he said “everyone will just have to be patient” as adjustments from COVID-19 are something businesses haven’t had to deal with before.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.



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