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New York Gyms & Fitness Centers Cleared to Reopen ...But Questions of Liability Remain for Co-ops & Condos

On August 17, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all gyms and fitness centers in New York State may reopen for operation on Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (Indoor group fitness classes may be delayed beyond that date.) Upon reopening and until further notice, gyms and fitness centers are required to operate at sharply reduced capacity, and must strictly adhere to rigorous health and safety protocols, including requiring all users of the facility to wear masks at all times. 

The purpose of this column is to outline the relevant New York State-mandated rules and regulations governing the reopening of gyms and fitness centers, and to analyze the potential liability for cooperatives and condominiums that opt to reopen their facilities in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Governance & Guidelines

In light of the fact that New York has achieved and maintained daily positive COVID-19 test results below 1% - meaning that each infected person passes the virus on to only one other person or less - the State has determined that local officials can allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen, so long as spaces are capped at 33% capacity and all users wear masks at all times. While gym-goers will no doubt greet this news with enthusiasm, it’s crucial to remember that even though COVID infection rates have been substantially reduced since the beginning  of the pandemic - and certainly since its peak in NYC this past spring - the crisis is still very much ongoing. With no FDA-approved vaccine or drug yet available to combat the virus effectively, local health departments must strictly enforce guidelines to help protect the public, and ensure that gyms and fitness centers reopen safely - and residents must do their part by cooperating.

In order to provide sufficient time for required local health department inspections, local elected officials have jurisdiction in determining whether to delay the reopening of gyms and fitness centers past the September 2 date issued by the governor. Accordingly, in New York City it is Mayor Bill de Blasio who will determine whether fitness facilities should postpone reopening. Outside of New York City, a given county’s chief executive – the county executive, administrator, manager, or chair of the local elected legislative body – will make that determination. Although Mayor de Blasio originally suggested that he would delay the reopening of fitness facilities in New York City past Governor Cuomo’s proposed date (continuing his ongoing feud with the governor), the Mayor ultimately agreed that gyms and fitness centers would indeed be cleared to reopen on September 2.

Local health departments must inspect gyms and fitness centers - either prior to their reopening or within two weeks of reopening, to ensure strict compliance with Department of Health (DOH) guidelines - and while facilities may open for individual workouts, the State’s guidelines allow localities to determine for themselves whether indoor group classes will be allowed to restart within their jurisdictions, or be postponed until a later date. At the time of this writing, Mayor de Blasio has maintained the ban on indoor group classes in New York City. 

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