There has been a lot of gray area in the statewide fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and gyms across the state are taking advantage of it.
Last weekend, several area gyms re-opened their doors using an interpretation of N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order shared by the state’s attorney general. In a letter dated June 5, Special Deputy Attorney Phil Rubin said indoor gyms and fitness facilities could be used when exercise is prescribed or directed by a person’s medical provider.
“We’ve had a great response. Everyone is so thankful we are open,” said Hannah Ambrozewski of Anytime Fitness, which reopened on Friday at 9 a.m. “We do have a lot of doctors that refer patients here. People are coming in with their doctor’s note in hand, but we are telling them it is not necessary. We are not asking for proof.”
Ambrozewski said health privacy laws, like HIPAA and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), discourage them from asking questions about a gym member’s medical history.
Instead they’ve upped their sanitation procedures and taken other precautionary measures. Social distancing stickers are spaced out on the floor, the water fountain is disconnected for now, and patrons are asked to limit their workout to 60 minutes during peak hours.
Similarly across town, TruFit Gym in Southern Pines has also reopened its doors to members with modified hours, limited capacity indoors, and cleaning protocols in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
“We’ve had a surprisingly good response. There has been a high demand for the gym,” said Brett Dagenhart, TruFit’s general manager. “We are following the 50 percent capacity rule. We are highly recommending that our members wear masks, but we don’t require it.”
TruFit, which has a large military-related clientele base, also installed a high-tech air purification system in the building and spent several days working with their staff on sanitation training as part of their overall readiness plan to reopen.
“Personally, I try not to be biased. But from a business standpoint, this has been devastating,” said Dagenhart. “We are trying to ease people into feeling more comfortable. There are guidelines, but no black and white answers. We are trying to ride that line.”
In an email letter to TruFit members, the club cited the ADA and a U.S. public health and civil rights code that prohibits anyone from interfering with their right to use the facility.
“We have had no negative response. It is all positive,” Dagenhart said.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas has also partially reopened its fitness facilities to members enrolled in their medically directed programs, including Exercise is Medicine and Rock Steady Boxing.
The rest of FirstHealth fitness facilities continue to operate on a modified schedule that includes outdoor group exercise classes and access to the pool. On its website, FirstHealth states that new protocols are in place, and safety is a top priority for both staff and members.
Other gyms and yoga studios in Moore County are also continuing to offer outdoor classes for groups of up to 25, in lieu of indoor programming.
“Everyone has to do what they have to do,” said Brandi Martin of Forte Fitness. “We have decided to run only outdoor classes for now. I am hoping we will have more clarification on June 26.”
That is the day that N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce whether the state will move into Phase 3 of the reopening plan. In addition, the General Assembly pushed forward a bill to Cooper on June 10 that would authorize indoor and outdoor exercise at fitness gyms with specific safety measures in place.
“We all thought we’d be reopening as part of Phase 2. Then we had to go back to the drawing board,” Dagenhart said. “But there is another part of this: people are missing not just the physical but the mental aspect. Working out is a medication for a lot of people.”
“We are a big advocate that health and fitness is an essential part of building up your immune system,” he added. “And there’s not a doctor out there that doesn’t recommend exercise.”