The New York Fitness Coalition and the Boutique Fitness Alliance are suing the city of New York and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for keeping indoor fitness classes closed past Sept. 2, the two groups announced in a press conference on Sept. 9.
Together, the groups consist of more than 2,000 gyms and studios including SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, SLT, F45, Orange Theory, Retro Fitness, Powerhouse, Solidcore, Gold’s Gym, Gleason’s Boxing Gym, Bodyrok, New York Pilates, Physique 57, Fhitting Room and others.
Most gyms in New York were allowed to reopen as early as Aug. 24 and no later than Sept. 2 at 33 percent capacity as long as they adhered to certain safety measures that would need to be verified through inspections. The gyms were closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. De Blasio initially indicated he would postpone reopening of New York City gyms due to the need for inspectors to focus on reopening schools, but he then decided inspections could occur virtually if in-person inspections were not possible.
However, de Blasio excluded indoor group fitness options from the reopening process, saying they must remain closed. His Deputy Press Secretary Mitch Schwartz told CNN Business on Sept. 9: "Other cities have shown us how quickly Covid-19 can return, and we're determined to heed those warnings. For now, that means avoiding high-risk activities that involve concentrations of people, breathing heavily, in small spaces."
The lawsuit, which was filed in Staten Island Supreme Court, alleges that the city offered an “inconsistent and unjust” path for reopening fitness facilities, and it hasn’t provided any scientific proof or data backing claims that group exercise studios are less safe than businesses such as tattoo parlors, tanning salons and bowling alleys that have been allowed to reopen. In fact, the two groups contend that their facilities can operate more safely than some of the reopened businesses.
“Group fitness is not only clean, controlled and safe, but we can go above and beyond the measures that have been laid out by the governor in a way that most other businesses that are currently open simply cannot,” Kari Saitowitz, founder and CEO of Fhitting Room, said in the press conference.
The studios can meet the state-mandated safety requirements, including temperature checks and mask wearing, she said. In addition, all clients register in advance for classes, clients have assigned spots in classes with eight to 12 feet of space between participants, and no one shares equipment or machines. Plus, the studios have personal information on everyone who comes in, which would make contact tracing easy.
“Our businesses proactively closed before we were even asked to because our mission is health and wellness,” Saitowitz said. “If we felt our community or teams were at risk, we would not be standing here today asking to reopen.”
In the press conference New York Fitness Coalition President Charlie Cassara blamed the continued closure of group fitness studios on the city’s inability to inspect studios in a timely manner.
Amanda Freeman, founder and president of Boutique Fitness Alliance, as well as founder and CEO of SLT, said in the press conference that the order to keep group fitness studios closed shows gender bias because 80 percent of the group fitness class participants are female.
“There is no good reason that group fitness has been singled out from gyms and remain closed,” she said. “We believe this decision is discriminatory against women, and we believe it needs to be changed.”
Freeman, who has 12 studios in the city and more outside the city, closed her facilities six months ago and has laid off most of her staff. The studios in both groups are able and willing to abide by the governor’s guidelines and be inspected in-person or virtually, she said.
“We just want this opportunity or our businesses will not survive,” she said. “We cannot serve our clients who rely on us to stay safe, healthy during these times when health has never been more important.”