Gym-loving New Yorkers hindered by coronavirus shutdown are crossing state lines for workouts

Connecticut gyms reopened in June, New York gyms have no date for resuming business

New Yorkers are crossing state lines to get a sweat session in as gyms remain closed in the Empire State because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Allie Melendez, 27, a Westchester native, was forced to put her gym membership on hold as a result of COVID-19 state-mandated closures so she bought a spin bike and treadmill during the pandemic instead. But after four months of being indoors, she and her fiancé decided to take a personal training class at a boutique gym in Greenwich, Connecticut, earlier this month just 15 minutes away from her home in New York.

With gyms still shut down in New York, more people are seeking out fitness classes out of state. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

“I got tired of at-home workouts because we are limited without weights,” Melendez told FOX Business Thursday.

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Masks, she says, were required at all times during her training session, and she says she felt safe since there were only five people socially distanced at the studio. But she said driving out of town felt like too much of a heavy lift.

“I’m just ready for my regular gym to be open," she says.

Melendez isn’t alone. A number of New Yorkers have been traveling from as far as the Bronx to workout at some Connecticut gyms, employees said.

“There’s been a lot of people coming in from Portchester and the Bronx,” a staff member at a Crunch gym franchise in Norwalk, Connecticut said, of out-of-towners traveling up to an hour or more away to use a gym.

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The employee said guests enrolled in the chain’s Peak membership, which grants access to any Crunch gym facility for around $19.95 a month, can walk in and pay an extra $5 each time they visit or become permanent members to avoid the added fee.

Boutique fitness studios in Greenwich have also seen a number of guests drop in from neighboring Westchester County towns like Rye and White Plains, about a 10 to 15-minute drive, respectively.

Laura Laboissonniere Sabia, founder of Club Sweat, a cardio fitness class in Greenwich and Pure Barre and Row House franchises, typically holds classes for up to 20 guests but has since capped classes at eight for social distancing purposes. Her team has implemented contactless check-ins, ramped up cleaning protocols and staff and class attendees must undergo temperature checks.

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“We’ve had two or three people come in from White Plains, people are willing to travel,” Laboissonneire Sabia said, adding that class attendees must sign a waiver stating they haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 and wear face masks upon entering the studio.

As of Thursday, Connecticut had 48,223 confirmed cases of COVID-19. New York had 409,697 confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Connecticut gyms were given the green light to reopen on June 17 with capacity limits cut in half.

In New York, while Gov. Cuomo has issued guidance for indoor venues like malls, retail stores and restaurants, it's still unclear when gyms and movie theaters will reopen leaving many businesses in limbo. And big-box fitness chains say they are prepared with the proper sanitary protocol like contactless check-ins and providing staffers with masks and gloves.

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"When we can reopen, we do so in a way that is smart, thoughtful and puts the health and safety of our members and team members first.  We put new comprehensive collateral in all of our clubs to support these new expectations,"  Jim Rowley, CEO of Crunch Worldwide said.

Despite the number of coronavirus cases surging in areas where gyms and restaurants are reopened in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, people and politicians have been urging Cuomo to reopen gyms and fitness facilities. New York's Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin called Cuomo on Twitter to “#OpenTheGyms.”

“There is no reason, other than power and control by @NYGovCuomo, that gyms are not open. You are hurting more people by leaving them closed. Cancer survivors, heart disease, obesity, stress, overall physical and mental fitness. #OpenTheGyms,” he wrote.

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Others, like Bronx Republican Party Chairman Michael Rendino, agreed.

"If Connecticut can open gyms safely, so can New York," he responded

Doctors, however, have cautioned against working out in indoor gyms because the close proximity to others can increase the risk of exposure to the new coronavirus.

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"Working out indoors is problematic, with sharing equipment and space in a crowded capacity. There are definitely precautionary measures that gym owners need to put in place," Dr. Steven Schnur CEO of healthcare company Imhealthytoday said.

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While some gyms reopening have conducted temperature checks, members still run a high risk of exposure. Earlier this month, at least 200 members of a Planet Fitness in West Virginia were exposed to COVID-19 after a gym-goer tested positive for the virus. The gym chain said in a Facebook post it closed for deep cleaning and would reopen with temperature checks for members and staff upon entry.

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