MOUNT KISCO — Local fitness club owners outlined Thursday the social distancing, sanitizing and other safety measures they will use as they pushed for the state to start a discussion about reopening gyms, following their statewide shutdown since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re ready to be open today,” Rick Beusman, owner of Saw Mill Club East, saidin response to a reporter’s question during a news conference at the club on North Bedford Road. But he said he and others understand and want to have a discussion with the state.
A plan has been submitted for how fitness centers could reopen, but “we haven’t gotten any specific responses, besides some generalities” from the state, said Beusman, who sits on the board of the New York State Fitness Alliance, which submitted the plan in Albany.
“A big message today is that we consider ourselves to be an essential business in our local communities,” he said.
At Saw Mill Club East, for instance, 50 percent of the cardio equipment has been removed to allow for better social distancing, Beusman said. Classes have been reduced to less than half their previous sizes. Masks are required. Temperatures would be taken of people who arrive. There will be reservation and check-in using phone apps to reserve training time slots and to restrict class sizes.
Gyms had been slated to reopen under the state’s Phase 4 reopening plan. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this year that they are to remain closed until the state better understands how the virus might spread by water droplets and air conditioning within indoor spaces.
Beusman said Saw Mill Club East is among fitness centers that want to work with the governor and officials in Albany. “We understand the reticence and concern the governor has. We think it’s unfounded,” he said, “but we simply want to be able to work this out.”
Saw Mill Club East and some other fitness centers are not pursuing the matter through the courts.
But more than 2,000 fitness-related businesses in New York have joined a class action that seeks both an injunction preventing the state from continuing to ban general fitness gyms, CrossFit gyms and yoga and pilates studios from indoor operation. The suit also seeks financial compensation for the time they’ve been closed. The lawyer who filed the suit has said there’s potential loss of 60,000 to 90,000 jobs if gyms and exercise studios permanently shut down and that the gyms can be operated safely.
On Thursday in Mount Kisco, area fitness club owners highlighted physical and mental health as reasons to reopen and showed a video of testimonials by people who in support. People who’ve spent months at home during the effort to curb COVID-19’s spread may have also experienced health issues including weight gain, which is associated with diabetes and heart disease and which can be factors tied to serious COVID-19 cases.
“I applaud the quick action by the governor … we should be thankful that we live in a state that’s taking the issue seriously,” said Bill Beck, president of Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor and Jefferson Valley. But he said exercise is a foundation for good health and people who do so have improved resistance to disease and better outcomes in fighting illness.
“Governor Cuomo talked about a program in New York to offer mental health resources to any New Yorker who needs it,” Beck said. “Well, if we could get back to health clubs we might need less of that. Let’s do all that we can to help our community get in better shape through movement.”
Beck said last month that Club Fit has been readying for months for reopening, including removing equipment to create more distancing in its fitness center and moving equipment to other areas that had had different uses so that people have more workout space.
Several elected officials expressed support at the news conference for moving the discussions along about reopening, but did not expressly call for immediate reopening.
Mount Kisco Mayor Gina Picinich said the Beusman family opened Saw Mill Club East in the village in the 1970s and have been at the forefront of promoting health and fitness. Over the years, more health clubs and gyms opened, she said, contributing to area villages and towns in other ways too.
“It’s about being generous; it’s about being philanthropic; they were good corporate citizens” for the health of the local economy,” Picinich said. “So it’s really important that these employees are able to bring back their employees to help drive the health of our local economy as well.”
State Sen. Peter Harckham said the coalition of fitness clubs seeking a response from the state is “here in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation” and this is “about a constructive partnership as to how this industry can safely open up.”
The sentiment of Thursday’s news conference was echoed in a statement posted on the website of The Arena, a fitness center located in a Westchester Avenue office complex in White Plains.
“Extended periods of isolation is not only bad for the mind, but impacts the immune system and overall health,” wrote owner Charles DeFrancesco. “While initially locking down was the correct course of action, many experts believe we need to pay more attention to the consequences at this point.”
Michael McKinney covers northern Westchester. Follow him on Twitter @mikemckwrite. Visit offers.lohud.com to sign up for a subscription.