Gym owners in NJ say it’s time to reopen

The costs are piling up — rent, lights, cable, water — but there’s no income coming in. It’s been almost five months since gyms in New Jersey were ordered to shut down.

Kevin Caballero, the regional marketing manager for Planet Fitness, says they’ve gone from 300 to 11 employees at 18 locations in North Jersey just to stay afloat.

“These are people’s livelihoods that are being compromised, so it was stressful for us to have to make decisions like that,” he said.

Like many gym owners across the state, Caballero says they’ve already made significant changes to keep people safe, including spacing out equipment, facing equipment in the same direction to avoid face-to-face contact, setting up 30 cleaning stations and utilizing a touchless check-in system.

The gym is ready to open. Caballero just needs Gov. Phil Murphy to give them the green light.

“The thing about not knowing is the most stressful part of it,” Caballero said.

“Like any business, these gyms right now, they need predictability, certainty. They need some visibility to a plan so that they can plan and decide whether or not they’re going to mitigate their loses or try to hang in there,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association CEO and President Michele Siekerka.

This week, Murphy said he was trying to figure out the best course of action for gyms, but he has still not set a date for when they will be allowed to reopen.

“It’s new hospitalizations, it’s rate of transmission, it’s spot positivity. We were up, literally five, six days ago, to 1.41, which means it was going in the wrong direction. We need to see these numbers consistently and sustained down. It’s something we want to get to, we also want to get to it and not kill anybody,” Murphy said at Monday’s coronavirus press briefing.

Dr. Judith Lightfoot, the chief of infectious disease at Rowan University, agrees with the governor.

“Unless you really have crowd control and people monitoring that people are wiping down the equipment to keep it all safe, I think we’re asking for problems,” she said.

“People make appointments to come in, so when it comes to contact tracing we can control the environment. And this is what we’ve been saying to any indoor activity,” Siekerka said.

Siekerka says the fitness industry employs 53,000 people in the state and time is running out for many places to stay in business. That could mean thousands of permanent job losses.

“We can have public health and economic health mutually work together if we do it in a safe and responsible manner, and I know these health and fitness centers are committed to doing that,” she said.

The Atlantic Club in Manasquan is making hospital-grade cleaning products on site. They also have added a new free weight studio to social distance the equipment, shields are in place and rooms have standalone air purification systems.

Chief Operating Officer Kevin McHugh says they’ve had to lay off more than 700 people since they closed. He says it’s time to open back up.

“You have to take a look at the gyms of today, and not the gyms of March 16,” he said.

McHugh says it’s not just a matter of business, it’s about giving people a space to improve their physical and mental health.

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