Thanks to the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, North Carolina residents were finally allowed to return to gyms and other fitness venues this weekend.
Beginning on Friday, North Carolina moved into what Gov. Roy Cooper called “Phase 2.5.” Playgrounds were reopened. Fitness centers, gyms, indoor exercise centers, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball and volleyball centers and others may now be open at 30% indoor capacity. Museums and aquariums may operate at 50% capacity.
But those who use these facilities must still wear masks and practice social distancing.
“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Gov. Roy Cooper said last week. "In fact, a new phase is exactly when we need to take this virus even more seriously.
The restrictions, first put in place May 22, prevented health nuts and gym rats — we say affectionately — from using exercise facilities’ weight machines, treadmills, swimming pools and yoga mats in group settings. The risk of viral transmission was too high, especially when people would be breathing and perspiring heavily around others.
It was a double blow because of the value of regular exercise in fighting stress, which has surely increased significantly under the pandemic.
The restrictions also placed a financial strain on the business owners and organizations that operate those facilities.
Many made do at home, though, or extended their routines to include outdoor venues.
But some find that fitness centers help them maintain the motivation they need to be consistent in their exercise routines. Dumbbells at home just aren’t the same.
So we hope that the limited opening will bring everyone involved a sense of relief.
But moving to Phase 2.5 doesn’t eliminate the risk of viral transmission. If anything, the virus should reinforce notions of hygiene in the gym that we knew before but weren’t taking that seriously.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's health secretary, offered a few words of caution last week: “As we take modest steps forward today, it’s important to remember that moving forward doesn’t mean letting up on slowing the spread of the virus ... especially as we head into flu season."
Cohen said the 30% capacity level for indoor fitness facilities will help limit exposure to the coronavirus. “There’s just a higher likelihood for the spread of viral respiratory droplets, so we wanted to be more restrictive,” she said.
Cohen cautioned that “just because we are easing restrictions by gyms doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. People need to consider their own personal and their family’s health risks with COVID.”
"We're thrilled not to be villainized anymore," Laura Ellison, who operates a Title Boxing Club franchise in Greensboro, told the News & Record.
But not everyone was pleased.
Marty Kotis, who owns the RED Cinemas in Greensboro, expressed frustration that the state still hasn't allowed movie theaters to reopen.
"During the time we’ve been closed, we’ve installed additional aisles, foot operated door pulls, tons of sanitizing stations, UVC air filtration units and purchased UVC medical grade scanners, electrostatic sanitizing sprayers and touchless point of sale systems," Kotis posted on Facebook.
"... And we’ve set up protocols for staff testing, temperature checks and PPE. So now Governor Roy Cooper lets Gyms and Bowling Alleys reopen (and, crazy enough, pools were allowed to open previously). But my theater can’t?"
That said, exercise is an important health tool anytime, but especially during a pandemic. Regular exercise helps people control medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. It helps keep the immune system strong and stress levels low. For many, it provides important social contact.
Cutting off access to exercise facilities was a calculated risk. It surely prevented many more infections. Now precautions must be maintained so that reopening doesn’t lead to regret.
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