Health Clubs Are Slated to Be in the First Wave of Businesses to Reopen Under Phase One of COVID-19 Guidelines

[Editors' Note: 4:30 p.m. Eastern, April 20, 2020. This story was updated with news that the governor of Georgia plans to reopen gyms and other businesses on April 24. 4:30 p.m. Eastern, April 24. This story was corrected to note that Equinox is owned by a group of investors that includes principals of The Related Companies.]

When President Trump shared guidelines to reopen businesses that have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first phase of the plan included reopening health clubs.

Even though governors have the final say over when a state reopens businesses, the president’s federal task force offered guidelines to states in a three-phase plan announced on April 16. 

Other businesses included with health clubs in Phase One of reopening were restaurants, movie theaters, houses of worship and sporting venues, as long as each can enforce social distancing requirements.  

Before a state can reopen businesses in Phase One, the task force recommends that the state have a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases reported for 14 days, that it have a downward trajectory of documented cases or downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period, that hospitals have the ability to treat all cases of COVID-19 without crisis care and that a robust testing program is in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.

The United States has more than 40,000 fitness facilities and hundreds of suppliers, altogether employing more than a million people, according to IHRSA, the trade association for commercial health clubs. The association has been advocating for the fitness industry to be included in the stimulus packages put together by the federal government, even adding more lobbyists to its ranks.

“At a time when the health of the nation is under attack by the coronavirus, the health of all citizens is integral to the economic and social health of the country,” IHRSA President and CEO Joe Moore said in a media release. “We are grateful to President Trump and this administration for recognizing that the cornerstone of that health is a physically active population and that therefore, health and fitness clubs must reopen in Phase 1 along with restaurants and places of worship. Health clubs, their staff, and their suppliers are vital to our nation’s current and long-term health.”

Moore and Jim Worthington, ex-officio of the IHRSA Board of Directors, wrote a letter on behalf of IHRSA thanking the president for inclusion of the fitness industry in Phase One of reopening. Worthington serves on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. He was one of four health club executives who answered questions in the April 15 Club Industry Town Hall on how club operators are planning to reopen. (The town hall is now available on-demand.)

Some health club operators are working on plans for how to adhere to the guidelines when they reopen. The leaders of Equinox and Crunch shared some of their plans with NBC News.

Equinox has a task force working with medical experts to create a plan that goes above the guidelines, Equinox Executive Chairman Harvey Spevak told NBC News. (Equinox is owned by a group of investors that include principals of The Related Companies, which is chaired by Stephen Ross, who has held fundraisers for President Trump’s re-election.)

Crunch CEO Jim Rowley shared with NBC News that his team reviewed the whole member experience from start to finish and created a 37-page manual that covers multiple areas, including social distancing (with plans to put cardio equipment six feet apart), sanitation and disinfection.

“This is the way we want to do things into perpetuity,” he told NBC News. “This won’t be the last virus, but we can create these good habits.”

When states reach Phase Two of the plan, venues such as health clubs, restaurants and movie theaters, would be allowed to ease physical distancing requirements to a “moderate” level. In Phase Three, health clubs would be allowed to operate under “standard” sanitation protocols while people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 could again go out in public while still practicing social distancing.

The Bear River Health Department in northern Utah already allowed health clubs in the three counties that it covers to reopen on April 13, as long as its guidelines were followed. Of the 45 clubs in the counties, only a handful planned to reopen at this time, the health department stated.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced on April 20 that he will open some businesses, including health clubs, on April 24. Other businesses to open include bowling alleys, body art studios, massage therapy studios, barbers, and hair and nail salons. Social distancing requirements will be in place. As of April 20, Georgia had 19,399 people diagnosed with COVID-19, and 775 Georgians have died of the virus, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health

The governors of Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee also indicated that some businesses in their states would soon reopen with social distancing requirements. None of them specifically mentioned health clubs.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on April 17 that he planned to reopen his state to an extent on April 24, beginning with allowing retail businesses to open only with the ability to deliver items either to customers’ cars or homes. Texas had 19,458 COVID-19 cases and 495 deaths from the virus as of April 20, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster reopened beaches, piers and wharfs in his state as well as retail businesses such as department stores, furniture stores, sporting goods stores, flower shops and flea markets, among others. Reopenings can occur as soon as 5 p.m. Eastern on April 20. South Carolina had 4,439 COVID-19 cases and 124 deaths from COVID-19 as of April 20, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.  

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced on April 20 that the state's stay at home order will expire on April 30 and most businesses will be allowed to reopen on May 1. No specific business types were mentioned, but the state has an Economic Recovery Group of 30 business leaders developing guidelines for businesses who will reopen. As of April 20, Tennessee had 7,238 cases of COVID-19 with 152 deaths, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

As of April 19, the United States had performed 3.865 million tests for COVID-19 and has had 758,720 confirmed cases and more than 40,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.