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Gov. Cooper blocks fitness types from gyms for a bit longer

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N.C. health club owners, their 45,000 employees and 2.5 million members will remain idled for a bit longer, having been caught up in the debate over how to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The N.C. General Assembly failed Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would have enabled the gyms to reopen for in-person workouts. It was a mostly party-line vote with fellow Democrats backing Cooper.

“Forty-seven governors from both political parties have acknowledged the relationship between physical fitness and mental health by allowing gyms to safely reopen, so why won’t Governor Cooper,” noted a statement from Fitness Operators for Responsible Reopening, a group of gym operators with 150 locations in North Carolina.

Cooper gave his answer at Tuesday’s press conference in which he mandated the wearing of masks while in public and extended restrictions on various Phase 2 activities through July 17. It’s all about listening to the public health and science experts, who are worried that metrics show a worsening virus situation in North Carolina, he said.

No one has provided evidence that gyms are breeding grounds for virus transmission, says Doug Warf, who leads the O2 Fitness Clubs company based in Raleigh. He’s particularly frustrated that Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, stopped sharing information after the club owners provided reams of data about their sanitation and safety efforts. “The conversations have stopped,” he says. “It’s become more of a political issue.”

Only New York and New Jersey have been as restrictive for gym owners as North Carolina, Warf says. Members of his group have had gyms open in South Carolina for 35 days, involving 32,000 visits, without any COVID-19 incidents, he says.

Cooper’s press staff sent this comment: “The Governor is listening to state health officials and following the data and science to make decisions to protect the health of North Carolinians. Our administration will continue working with businesses around the state as we work to stabilize our increasing viral spread and safely ease restrictions.”

While the private gyms have pushed hard, the state’s YMCAs haven’t taken a stand on reopening.  A spokeswoman for the Ys noted that while many peers have opened around the U.S., “the N.C. Alliance of YMCAs did not request the legislature to author bills and have not discussed the bills with our local governing boards. Therefore, we do not have a collective position.”

 

 

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