At long last, one of the final pieces in New York’s reopening puzzle is here. As of Monday, August 17, gyms and fitness centers in the Hudson Valley have the official word on when they can reopen.
The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo follows his approval for the reopening of state bowling alleys as early as August 17. According to his notice on August 14, bowling alleys can reopen at half-capacity with strict safety protocol in place. Masks and social distancing are required.
For Spins Bowl in the Hudson Valley, the news offered the local entertainment company the chance to innovate to ensure customer safety. After remaining closed for months, Spins centers reopen beginning the weekend of Friday, August 21 with their new Squeeki Ball technology.
“I’ve felt for years that the industry needed a simple solution for customers to feel more confident in the cleanliness of bowling balls,” says Spins Bowl LLC CEO Bill Diamond, “and with COVID we felt that we needed to come up with a solution, and we want to share it with other operators.”
Working with Mehrdad Ghalebi, CEO of engineering consulting firm MTK-Group, Diamond developed the Squeeki Ball, a proprietary sanitizing system that will roll out to all 13 Spins Centers across the country.
So how does it work? Inside the two-foot by four-foot machine, bowling balls are sprayed with sanitizing solution, rolled into the heating cabinet, sanitized, and, within one minute, dried and ready for use.
“Every guest should be able to have fun with friends and family without worry. We are committed to creating an environment that is as safe as possible for our guests and staff to enjoy the fun and excitement of bowling,” Diamond notes.
For gyms, meanwhile, the requirements are even more stringent. Local fitness centers can reopen at 33-percent capacity beginning August 24 if they have proper HVAC systems (MERV-13 or greater) as approved by local authorities. If gyms cannot operate at that level, they must have an HVAC professional document that and adopt ventilation and mitigation protocol from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention instead.
Depending on the situation, regional officials can choose to delay openings to September 2 to provide adequate time for health inspections and delay the return of indoor classes to a later date as well. All spaces must be inspected by local health departments before or within two weeks of any planned reopenings. Once open, gyms must require that individuals and staff wear masks at all times.
While operations may vary from one gym to the next, all Hudson Valley fitness centers must incorporate sign-ins with contact information, health screenings, and six feet of separation at all times. In regard to cleaning, disinfection supplies must be available to all customers, and shared equipment must be cleaned after each use. For classes, maximum capacity depends upon maintaining six feet of distance, although it cannot exceed 33 percent of typical class size.
On the amenities front, water bottle refill stations are permitted while shared water fountains are not. Communal showers must close, although individual showers can remain open as long as they are cleaned between uses.
For the gyms of the Hudson Valley, the reopening news is a cautionary green light. After facing months of uncertainty, they now must find a way to transition from complete closure or virtual programming to an in-person format that’s safe for both visitors and staff. Yet even with the inevitable challenges, they’re excited to return, albeit in a gradual manner.
At Lyf Fitness in Hudson, for instance, reopening means yet another change in programming. During the pandemic, the Columbia County fitness center shifted gears quickly to adopt custom, online, and outdoor offerings for clients.
“After the initial shock of the pandemic and a few days to process, we decided to regroup, update our website, and offer some new creative ways for our clients to keep moving,” explains Lyf Fitness owner Kylah Campeta. “Virtual training, outside workout plans, and more have kept our clients in a routine and moving when they couldn’t enter the gym. Though we are looking forward to reopening, we will be taking it slowly and following all precautions to keep our staff and clients safe.”
To start, she plans to open for one-on-one sessions in the studio, although she’ll shorten them by 10 minutes to sanitize and give people enough time to enter and exit without interaction. She’ll provide hand sanitizer and implement a check-in system and mask requirement as well.
Similarly, Rhinebeck Pilates in Dutchess County plans to ease into reopening in the Hudson Valley. The initial closure following the COVID-19 outbreak was a shock for owner Elaine Ewing, but she found a way to adapt through virtual programming and creative solutions.
“Very on I made the conscious decision to look at this moment in time as a challenge rather than a hardship,” she notes, adding that within one day of closing she switched all classes to a virtual format. “I rented out the majority of my apparatus to be able to afford the overhead of keeping the studio space while we were unable to see people in person.”
With online sessions still going strong, Ewing plans to use the transitional period to install the required air filtration systems in the studio so she can reopen safely. Classes will begin with one-on-one sessions, and virtual programming will continue for those who cannot attend in person or do not feel comfortable doing so. For those who prefer to practice at home, Ewing will still rent equipment to make instruction more accessible.
While reopening timelines will vary depending on studio size, HVAC unit approval, and comfort levels, fitness centers are back in action in the Hudson Valley. Looking ahead, the only other businesses that await word on when they can reopen are New York State movie theaters. Governor Cuomo has declared them less essential, with no current word about if and when they’ll be able to open their doors in the coming weeks.