Gyms excluded from the state’s phase 4 reopening, leaves many many local gyms frustrated

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Frustrated and simply fed-up, that’s how many area gym owners are feeling right now, and some of them are channeling those feelings into a class action lawsuit

Many local gyms have spent the last few months setting up the building blocks for reopening in the state’s later phases, but Western New York enters phase 4, the doors at area gyms are still closed.

“To be honest we’re disappointed, since mid-march we’ve been running child care for essential workers about 250 kids a day, we’ve had safety measures in place, we really put a lot of precautions in place,” said John Ehrbar, president and ceo of YMCA Buffalo Niagara.

Thousands of area residents in the region attend the gyms and other fitness programs at the YMCA. Ehrbar says they’ve implemented lots of cleaning and other covid-safety measures to keep patrons safe.

Another local gym Catalyst Fitness serves about 40,000 people across the region at their seven sites. The owner says her staff has been working hard to make their gyms covid-safe as well.

“There’s 40 thousand of just my members, and there’s other fitness facilities in Western New York, that probably have thousands of their own,” said Amy Bueme owner Catalyst Fitness. “If we are safe, and the member does what’s asked of them, and if we do what’s asked of us, we can be a safe environment and be open.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, says that gyms, like malls and theaters will be required to put in place air filtration systems that can filter out covid19.

Local health experts agree with the state, saying installing an air filtration system is a key to keeping people safe and healthy.

“When people are exercising hard they’re either going to be reluctant or often feel that they can’t wear masks,” said Thomas Russo, infectious disease expert at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And, when you exercise hard you generate a lot of secretions and they go a lot further.”

She says most gyms have an air filtration system already.

“I think that is a cop-out, because they just don’t know what to say so they’re looking to say that”

“We’ve already started to do that without anyone saying that’s what you have to do, but again, is that going to be mandated for everybody, for restaurants, for bars, for everything, because when you’re in any facility, you’re breathing the air that’s in there.”

Bueme says many gyms already have air filtration systems.

“We’re changing units, we have filters, with Australian tea tree oils that cleanse and purify, bacteria, MRSAs, but again, is that going to be mandated for everybody? For restaurants, for bars, for everything? because when you’re in any facility, you’re breathing the air that’s in there,” said Bueme.

Gym owners are not backing down without a fight. Many have joined class action lawsuit against the state.

“It’s really frustrating. So, my friends in Albany, Syracuse and New York are going to have to get together and join forces in order to be heard,” said Bueme. “So whatever we’re going to have to do, we’re going to do it, i just hope that it’s sooner than later.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was asked about the lawsuit at a press conference this week.

“We get sued all the time. I will defend a lawsuit where the State of New York, stands up and says every step we took was to adhere to our requirement, that is government officials will protect the health and safety and welfare of our citizens. I think we’ll win that one,” Hochul said.

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