NC legislators aiming to reopen gyms, health clubs despite Cooper order

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina gyms could reopen thanks to legislation advancing in the state Senate that would essentially overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 executive order keeping them closed.

The North Carolina Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would allow gyms to reopen. The measure would allow the gyms and health clubs to reopen at 50% capacity.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

It’s another effort by lawmakers to overturn Cooper’s restrictions that have kept certain types of businesses shuttered during the pandemic. Gyms have been fighting for weeks to reopen after they were left out of Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, which reopened indoor dining, pools and hair salons at a limited capacity.

Legislation already on Cooper’s desk would allow bars to reopen outdoors.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order requires fitness centers to remain closed until the next phase, which is slighted for late June.

Some gyms have even been cited for openly defying the order by reopening their doors to members. Others have filed lawsuits against the governor saying he does not have the authority to say they cannot work.

State health leaders said gyms were excluded from Phase 2 because they’re at a higher risk for spreading the coronavirus.

But many gym owners said they can open responsibly and adhere to the same safety guidelines as other businesses that have reopened.

The bill still needs to be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

Cooper has defended keeping bars and gyms closed based on health decisions, but late Thursday left open the possibility that they could reopen sooner than now anticipated.

The Fitness Operators for Responsible Reopening, a coalition of North Carolina fitness club operators, released the following statement regarding the vote:

“We are encouraged by today’s bipartisan vote in the N.C. Senate Commerce Committee to advance legislation to safely reopen gyms, health clubs and fitness centers. We commend lawmakers for their leadership to find a solution that prioritizes the health and safety of our 600,000 members and 5,000 employees in North Carolina. With the added stress and isolation of the pandemic, exercise is more important now than ever for the physical and mental well-being of our communities. We look forward to working together to get North Carolinians moving again.”

Statement from Cooper’s office:

“This bill is irresponsible and disregards public health recommendations. The Governor and state health officials have laid out criteria for lifting restrictions to bolster our economy while protecting the health of North Carolinians. Governor Cooper will continue to follow the data, and work with the private sector to move forward.”

>> We’ll bring you LIVE updates on Channel 9 Eyewitness News. Get extended coverage on the free WSOC Now app on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.