(Update: 3:30 p.m. Eastern, June 25 - The story has been updated with information on a new bill being introduced in the North Carolina legislature today.)
Health clubs in North Carolina remain closed after a bill passed by the state legislature that would have allowed clubs to reopen in phase two of the state’s reopening plan was vetoed by the governor and the House was unable to override the veto. However, a new bill may offer renewed hope.
Phase two of North Carolina’s reopening plan was scheduled to end on June 26, but Gov. Roy Cooper announced on June 24 that he would extend phase two for three more weeks, meaning phase three would start no earlier than July 17. Gyms are one of the businesses that originally were set to reopen in phase two but then were pushed to phase three at the last minute. Fitness facilities in the state have been closed since March 25 when the governor issued stay at home orders to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Gym operators that formed an alliance called Fitness Operators for Responsible Reopening (FORR) came together at the capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina, on June 24 to hold a rally and lobby state legislators to override the governor’s June 18 veto of House Bill 594, which would have allowed gyms to reopen at 50 percent capacity with measures such as social distancing, increased cleaning protocols and daily screenings of employees for the virus. Cooper said he vetoed the bill over concerns about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
After the failed attempt to override the veto, members of FORR worked with some of the state legislators to add gyms to House Bill 806, which initially addressed offering limited immunity from COVID-19 related claims for privately owned community pools. Now the bill also seeks to reopen health clubs in the state in phase two with conditions, such as limiting capacity to 40 percent at indoor facilities, requiring staff to wear masks and strongly encouraging members to do so, making contactless check in available, and enforcing social distancing in every area of the club including group exercise rooms. A vote is expected on the bill today.
North Carolina has 985 health clubs, 45,000 employees that are out of work and 2.5 million health club members, according to FORR.
Members of FORR include O2 Fitness and franchisees of Planet Fitness, Crunch Fitness and Orangetheory Fitness.
The group developed a 14-step plan to safely reopen health clubs in the state. The plan included opening at 40 percent capacity or 10 people per 1,000 square feet as well as increased cleaning protocols and social distancing measures.
FORR released this statement after the override was unsuccessful: “We are disappointed with the outcome of today’s vote. Every day gyms are closed is another day our hard-working employees are out of work and health club members are deprived of their workout routines. We commend the bipartisan group of lawmakers who supported this effort to safely reopen gyms and save jobs on behalf of North Carolina’s 2.5 million health club members and 45,000 gym employees. Forty-seven governors from both political parties have acknowledged the relationship between physical fitness and mental health by allowing gyms to safely reopen, so why won’t Governor Cooper? We strongly urge the governor to amend his Executive Order to reopen gyms now using our science backed, 14-step plan featuring the highest public health precautions and stringent sanitation protocols.”