NC gyms, bars stay closed as COVID-19 veto stays in place

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly has failed to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a measure that would have allowed gyms and bars to open again despite his executive order keeping them closed due to COVID-19.

Republicans in charge of the House were unsuccessful on Wednesday in persuading enough Democratic colleagues to essentially cancel the governor’s veto from last week.

The fitness centers and bars have been shuttered since March. Bars would have been able to only serve patrons outdoors. The bill is one of several seeking to overturn Cooper’s orders designed to dull the coronavirus spread.

North Carolina gyms, museums and playgrounds that were expecting to open Friday will now have to wait until at least July 17.

On Thursday, Cooper issued a decision that does not allow the state to move into Phase 3 due to concerns over COVID-19. He has said things like museums, playgrounds and particularly gyms could put people at risk of catching the virus.

[FAQ: Everything you need to know about NC’s mask, face-covering mandate]

However, some area gym owners told Channel 9′s Tina Terry that they have serious concerns about the future.

“It’s devastating. There’s expenses with this that continue to go on,” Chris Narveson said.

His Orangetheory Fitness in Steele Creek has been closed for 3 1/2 months now.

“For three months our revenue is down over $1 million. Half of that from membership dues and half from program revenue and that’s just in three months,” said Jamie Morgan, CEO of the Rowan-Cabarrus YMCA.

He said all YMCAs in the state have been suffering.

“We were fortunate to get PPP loans that bought us a little time. We just re-furloughed 200 part-time staff people because we exhausted those funds,” he said.

Some gyms have reopened already on the grounds of a letter from the North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

The letter said gyms could open to serve people who have a doctor’s order to work out, but other gyms are still waiting for a clear directive from Cooper. While they understand the need to protect the public, some question why gyms in South Carolina, Tenneesee, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and many across the nation have been allowed to reopen.

“We’re one of only four states that haven’t allowed gyms and YMCA’s to open,” Morgan said.

“Why is it that we are singled out for what we do when it’s proven that the healthy people are the people that are able to fight the virus off?” Narveson said.

We reached out to state health officials on their behalf Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services sent the following response:

“We continue having conversations with gym owners and representatives from the fitness industry. The Department has issued guidance for Indoor Exercise Facilities, Indoor Fitness Facilities and Gyms that enabled outdoor operations that does allow limited operations outside. While we would all like to be in the position to move the next phase of easing restrictions, North Carolina’s numbers are moving in the wrong direction. The decision-making process for developing public health guidance was driven by the best science and data available about COVID-19 spread and risk, using a public health framework of social distancing, hygiene, monitoring health, protecting our most vulnerable populations, and providing accurate information.”

“Indoor activities generally carry a greater risk of contraction and transmission of the virus than outdoor activities, for a number of reasons. First, it is more likely that outdoor environments will be more conducive to maintaining social distancing at least six feet apart, reducing population density, and avoiding contaminated surfaces. Second, air circulates freely outdoors, which decreases the risk of transmission of the virus. Studies have shown that the odds for disease transmission indoors is approximately 18.7 times higher than in an open-air environment.”

“Going to the gym is considered a higher risk activity for viral spread. When you have people in an indoor setting with increased respiratory effort associated with vigorous exercise, you have conditions where communicable disease can spread easily. In addition, it may be difficult, and people may be hesitant to wear a cloth face covering, because of the need to breathe heavily while exercising, which can further increase the likelihood of viral transmission.”

“Even when social distancing is practiced, gyms can increase the risk of spreading infections. The increase in respiratory effort (heavy, deep, rapid breathing) associated with exercise in gyms and indoor exercise facilities, combined with the difficulty or inability to wear a face covering while exercising, is of particular concern. In addition, gyms tend to have a lot of equipment on which viral particles may fall. It is not sweat, but the risk for spread of respiratory droplets.”

“The order does not restrict gyms or exercise businesses from setting up outdoor exercise equipment and operating outside. Owners of gyms and exercise businesses who choose to set up outside must limit gatherings to 25 or fewer people, and should perform frequent and routine environment cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas with an EPA-approved disinfectant for SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).”