West Virginians who have been missing their gym routine can return Monday.
Bowing to pressure from gym owners who wondered why they had not been given a target date for when they could reopen while some competitors were allowed, Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday that all gyms in the state may reopen next week.
Justice said he received a number of calls from frustrated gym owners who were seeing other gyms “push the envelope” of his order permitting wellness centers operated by hospitals or licensed health care providers to reopen this week. One of the gyms “pushing the envelope” was Snap Fitness, which has locations in Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties.
“I understand the unfairness,” Justice said. “I do think under the strictness of our guidelines we can move forward and open gyms.”
West Virginia YMCAs were among those making calls to the Governor’s Office. In a letter sent to the governor Monday, the YMCA Alliance — representing all eight Ys in the state — wrote they did not understand why a distinction was made between “wellness centers” and the YMCA.
“We have been made aware that other fitness centers attached to physical therapy locations are planning to reopen under your ‘West Virginia Strong’ plan,” the letter reads. “Our Y’s are staffed by professionals and governed by board of directors representing a broad cross-section of the communities we serve.”
According to the executive order that went into effect this past Monday, “wellness centers” that offer exercise therapy, physical therapy, post-operative therapy and rehabilitation services that are operated by a hospital or otherwise staffed by licensed health care providers could begin operating this week.
Eric Tarr, owner of Snap Fitness, a physical therapist and Republican Putnam County state senator, said Tuesday he interpreted the order to mean he could fully open his gym, which operates in conjunction with Generations Physical Therapy. Generations, which has been operating throughout the stay-at-home as an essential business, is owned by Tarr’s family and operates out of five Snap Fitness locations.
Tarr was not able to be reached for comment Thursday. At least one other wellness center in the state reopened under the order: Healthworks West Virginia based in Morgantown, according to MetroNews.
Bob White, owner of Nautilus Fitness Centers in Charleston, said he believed Tarr took advantage of his position as a senator to reopen his gym and created division in the community.
“If he wasn’t open, you wouldn’t see other clubs trying to open,” White said. “People are dying to exercise. If that’s the only place you can go, [other gyms] are going to lose members. He created this issue in the community.”
White said he had planned to open Monday even before Justice made his announcement.
“You could drive a truck through those guidelines to meet the requirements,” he said.
New guidelines for gyms were released Thursday afternoon. They include restricting building capacity to 40%, closing showers, water fountains and basketball courts, and require all staff and members to wear proper protective equipment, including face coverings to the greatest extent possible.
Doug Korstanje, CEO of the YMCA of Huntington, said he was pleased to have a date for reopening, but was disappointed no fitness centers in the state were consulted on the guidelines.
“We believe you should be able to take a shower,” Korstanje said. “You can space out the showers. I don’t want to be too critical, but I wish they would have consulted us before they released these guidelines.”
It is up to the county health departments to enforce the executive orders and ensure all businesses are following the proper guidelines. Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said he would rather guide businesses, but the department does have the authority to work with the county prosecutor, state attorney general or State Police to ensure compliance.
Korstanje said the YMCA will reopen Monday and move forward under a phased approach developed with local health experts. He said he is excited to see members returning to the gym next week.
Gym-goers expressed both excitement and hesitation at the reopenings on social media Thursday.
“I have already been back this week with my trainer,” said Sami Abbas, of Barboursville, on Twitter. “I already knew people were dirty before COVID-19 and I continue to use common sense and wash my hands and use hand sanitizer through the day. I choose freedom with a dash of common sense over forced lockdown.”
Angelo Fioravante, of Huntington, said he won’t be returning to the gym for a few more months at least.
“I’ve got family I’m worried about, so I can do squats and things safely at home,” he said on Twitter. “I had one friend call another friend last night to get a mask so he could rush to a gym. I don’t think those who are excited are ready.”
Santos Alvarez, who lives in Proctorville, Ohio, but attends CrossFit in Huntington, fell in the middle.
“Our CrossFit classes are pretty small so I’m comfortable in the sense of risk pool and also trust the other members to look out for each other sanitation-wise as well as staying away if feeling sick ... my Planet Fitness membership not so much,” Alvarez said.