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New York gyms can reopen with coronavirus precautions next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that gyms across the state can resume indoor operations with new precautions as soon as next week after being closed for about five months, .

Cuomo said gyms will be allowed to resume operations at 33% capacity. He added that gyms must comply with state health requirements, which will be released later Monday. Clients and staff will need to wear masks inside the facilities, and gyms will be subject to new ventilation requirements. 

While gyms will be subject to new restrictions, the reopening is another step towards normalcy in New York, which has managed to keep the level of Covid-19 spread low throughout the state while continuing to gradually reopen parts of the economy. The state, which was one of the first in the U.S. to be hit by the coronavirus and endured one of the most deadly outbreaks yet, is now charting a path forward. 

“The gyms can open as soon as August 24,” Cuomo said at a news briefing. “The guidance goes out today on gyms. Basically, the outline is 33% capacity. There are health requirements that are in the guidelines that have to be maintained to their ventilation requirements. This is a whole new topic where we can do a whole lot of good work.”

Shares of Planet Fitness were 1.7% in Monday afternoon trading.

“We look forward to working with our franchisees to safely reopen our locations in New York under Governor Cuomo’s guidelines, in order to provide New Yorkers with much needed access to high quality, affordable health and fitness,” the company said in a statement to CNBC.

Cuomo added that local officials must inspect gyms before they reopen or within two weeks of their opening “to make sure they’re meeting all the requirements.” He said localities have until Sept. 2 to inspect the gyms and determine whether they can reopen if they’re unable to do so before Aug. 24.

“The state will make, frankly, the hard decisions. I’ll say the businesses have to close. I’ll say the gyms have to close. I’ll say the bars have to close. Let them blame me,” Cuomo said. “You, local governments, have to do the compliance and enforcement work.”

He acknowledged that gym owners will likely criticize the state’s health requirements as too difficult, but added that the guidelines were crafted by health officials and engineers. He said gyms are an “area of concern” and “that’s why we went slow on it.”

“If it’s not done right, it can be a problem and we’ve seen that,” he said about reopening gyms. “You need to get the economy back up, you need to get life moving forward. That’s the constant tension you’re trying to walk and so far we’ve walked it right.”

Another reason why the state is ready to allow gyms to reopen, Cuomo said, is because everyone signs into gyms, which allows for effective contact tracing if there is a cluster of infections traced back to a gym. He added that the state’s low overall infection rate means that residents can safely do more activities without risking a massive outbreak.

Cuomo said 0.7% of all coronavirus tests in New York came back positive on Sunday, the most recent data available, adding that the state has averaged below 1% of positive tests since June. He added that six people died of Covid-19 on Sunday, far below the more than 800 daily deaths the state was seeing at the peak of the outbreak in April. 

New York, once the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, has made strides in beating back the initial outbreak and keeping the daily infection rate low compared with many other states. Still, the virus has infected more than 425,500 people and killed at least 32,800 people in the state, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Cuomo has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that even as the numbers remain low, New Yorkers must remain vigilant as the virus could quickly bounce back if people, businesses and officials rush to reopen. 

The entire state is now in the fourth and final phase of Cuomo’s reopening plan, but a number of businesses, including gyms and restaurants, remain closed for indoor operations. Cuomo announced last week that bowling alleys could reopen with modifications starting Monday and that museums and other cultural sites will be allowed to reopen on Aug. 24.

Cuomo has expressed particular caution when it comes to reopening gyms.

“We know gyms are highly problematic from the other states. They opened them and they had to close them,” Cuomo said at a news briefing on Aug. 6. “We’re here, poised delicately on this island of New York state with this sea of spread all around us so we know we have this storm and we have to be very, very careful.”

Health officials are still learning about how exactly the coronavirus spreads and what kind of environments present the greatest risk of infection. Infectious disease specialists say outdoor environments in which people can spread out from one another are the lowest risk. Crowded, indoor environments with poor ventilation are among the highest risk environments, specialists say, adding that it’s crucial that people wear masks in such conditions.

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