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Long Beach gyms eyeing their return

Cuomo allows reopening on Monday, with limitations

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The announcement that many gym owners were anxiously awaiting came on Monday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his blessing to reopening those facilities as soon as next Monday. Like other reopenings, however, there will be limitations.

Fitness centers will be allowed to open at 33 percent capacity, and masks must be worn at all times, Cuomo said in a news briefing. The facilities will also have to perform health screenings; patrons will be required to use sign-in forms to help with potential contact tracing; and ventilation systems must be upgraded to help prevent the transmission of Covid-19. Closed since March, gyms are reopening as the state sees its lowest infection rate since the coronavirus pandemic began, 0.7 percent.

Cuomo said that gyms must be inspected, or be ready to be inspected, by local officials by Sept. 2. Localities will also determine whether gyms can resume indoor classes.

John McNally, executive assistant to Interim Long Beach City Manager Donna Gayden, said on Monday that the city was waiting to hear from the state Department of Health on how to proceed with the inspections and reopenings.

Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford wrote to Cuomo last month, asking him to reopen fitness centers. On Monday, she said that his decision was a good move. “When you look at the mental health aspect of Covid-19, I think gyms are a good outlet for some people to work that stress out,” Ford said. “I can only imagine how much cleaner everything will be with this hanging over us.”

Lori McMahon, a co-owner of Barrier Island CrossFit, on East Park Avenue, said she had mixed feelings about the reopening guidelines. Though she was happy that the gym could finally reopen, she was concerned about ventilation and mask requirements — and about paying the business’s outstanding bills.

“We’re pretty much a high-intensity workout that’s now going to require masks,” McMahon said. “It’s going to be a little tough.” She added that the gym has been holding classes in its parking lot, but has faced several complaints from another tenant, which has made it more difficult to operate.

“It’s a small business, and we’re just trying to stay above water until we can get back on our feet.” she said. “It’s like everything is working against us.”

McMahon said it would be difficult for the gym to invest in a new filtration system, considering that it has not been fully operational for five months, still has mounting bills and has lost about three-quarters of its membership. Nonetheless, she praised those in the community who have helped the facility get through the pandemic.

The staff was working on logistics to allow as many members as possible to use the gym, McMahon said. They will try to continue to have outdoor classes and slowly add indoor sessions, though she said she wasn’t sure how many members will want to work out in a mask. But, she stressed, “We’re going to do everything we can to stay open and accommodate our members as best as we can.”

Bikram Yoga owner Anne Hayes, whose studio is also on East Park Avenue, said she was excited about bringing her students back. Classes are now being conducted free over Zoom, with donations encouraged — and outdoors, but this form of yoga usually takes place in a room heated to 105 degrees. Hayes said she has tried it while wearing a mask, and expects everything to be fine when indoor classes resume.

“Yoga is learning how to breathe, flow, control and keeping your body calm,” she said. “Yeah, with the mask it’s not as comfortable … but if we all [adhere] to the strict protocol, we’ll all be OK.”

For now, the studio will offer only hour-long classes, and not its usual 90-minute option. With capacity restrictions, the classes will be smaller, and as a safety measure, showers and changing rooms will not be available. Cleaning protocols for the hot room will be enhanced.

“For people who don’t feel comfortable — because many of them won’t be, and I understand — then they can still take the class on Zoom,” Hayes said. She acknowledged that she lost many students during the pandemic, and she believes it will take her a while to recoup her losses. “It’s going to take at least a year for us to recover,” she said.

Unlike Bikram Yoga and Barrier Island CrossFit, F45 Training in Long Beach was not yet well known when the pandemic hit. In fact, it had been open for only two weeks when Cuomo ordered the shutdown. But Mike Alberts, F45’s chief operations officer, said he was looking forward to reopening.

“We’re certainly excited about the prospects,” Alberts said. “We’re waiting on and evaluating what the governor’s guidance is to ensure that we’re going to be compliant with whatever the guidelines are going to be.”

Alberts said that Cuomo had taken necessary steps to keep people safe, and that the state’s low infection rate spoke for itself. He added that he hoped to regain some of the momentum the gym was building when it opened.

“Obviously we’re going to be somewhat limited coming out of the gate here,” he said, “but we felt that we were building a pretty significant community at our studio. We had excellent feedback in terms of how we were operating.”

The Long Beach community had embraced the new facility, Alberts said, and many of its trainers had established solid relationships with their clients, which they’re looking to return to. As for now, he said, F45 is cautiously optimistic, and focused on meeting the reopening guidelines.