NY State Department of Health Issues Guidance for Reopening Gyms, Fitness Centers

August 21, 2020 Advisory

On Aug. 17, 2020, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) issued an Interim Guidance for the reopening of gyms and fitness centers. The following is a short summary of some key guidelines included in the 17-page Guidance. We recommend reviewing the entire Guidance, which can be found on the Governor’s website

The Guidance takes effect on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, but county executives outside of NYC, and the Mayor of NYC, may postpone the effective date until Sept. 2, 2020 (and may also postpone indoor group fitness and aquatic classes beyond that timeframe).

These guidelines apply to fitness activities and facilities, including all standalone, residential, hotel and office gyms. It is important to note that the Guidance requires residential and hotel fitness centers to have staff available to ensure compliance with the guidelines. In effect, this would require staff be assigned to the facility whenever it is used, due to the requirements set forth below, which include screening patrons, cleaning equipment and keeping the patrons 6 feet apart. 

Requirements for the Facility

  • The capacity within the facility (including the required staff member) is limited to 33% of the maximum legal capacity.
  • The exercise equipment or workout stations must be at least 6 feet apart.
  • All shared equipment must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
  • Signs must be posted throughout the facility consistent with DOH COVID-19 signage.
  • Communal showers must be closed. Individual showers may remain open, but must be cleaned and disinfected after each use. 
  • Each facility must be inspected by the local health department prior to, or within 14 days after, opening to ensure compliance.
  • While not required, it is suggested that the facility consider appointments, reservations and/or remote check-in.   
  • Certain communal amenities must be closed, such as whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, water fountains and seating areas. Water bottle refilling stations, however, are permitted.
  • Facilities with central air handling systems must ensure that the filtration system meets the highest rated filtration compatible with the currently installed filter rack and air handling systems, at a minimum MERV-13, and certified by a certified HVAC professional. If the system in place cannot handle MERV-13 filtration, an HVAC professional must so certify. 
  • The facility must provide soap, running warm water and paper towels for handwashing, or if not available or practical, alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Touchless soap and paper towel dispensers are also recommended. 

Requirements for Staff and Patrons

  • All persons (both patrons and staff) in the facility must wear a face covering. Those who cannot tolerate a face covering must wear a face shield instead.
  • Both patrons and staff must complete and pass a health screening, which consists of completing a questionnaire that states whether the person has:
    • knowingly come into close contact in the past 14 days with anyone who tested positive for, or has had symptoms of, COVID-19;
    • tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days;
    • experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days; and
    • travelled to a state with significant spread of COVID-19 for longer than 24 hours within the past 14 days.  (A list of such states, which currently includes over 30 states, can be found here.)
  • Patrons must sign in upon entering, providing full name, address and phone number (for contact tracing purposes). Remote check-in prior to entering is acceptable. Presumably, the remote check-in can take place within a reasonable time, just before entering.
  • A record of the sign-in data must be maintained for at least 28 days.
  • All persons must keep at least 6 feet apart from other individuals. 

It is assumed that additional requirements and changes in these guidelines will be forthcoming, as there are a number of issues unresolved. For example:

  • How can a gym in a small building reopen if it has no staff to dedicate to the facility as required above? 
  • If NYC (or the county) is unable to conduct an inspection within the two-week period, may the facility continue to operate, or must it close?
  • Can a staff member refuse to be assigned to the facility? How do OSHA or union rules factor in? 
  • If the equipment is not 6 feet apart, but there is no issue of social distancing since only one person is allowed in the gym at a time (which may be the case in small buildings), must the gym stay closed? What are the Board’s options?
  • What are the penalties for noncompliance?

We await further announcements from the NYS DOH. Armstrong Teasdale attorneys are actively monitoring and providing updates regarding the impact of COVID-19. 

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