Senate committee votes to overrule Cooper, open gyms

While gym owners in eastern North Carolina are asking the courts to open their doors, state lawmakers are pursuing their own bid to reopen those businesses.

Posted Updated

Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — While a group of eastern North Carolina gym owners are asking the courts to open their doors, state lawmakers are pursuing their own bid to reopen those businesses - over the objections of the governor and state health officials.

The Senate Commerce committee Thursday unanimously approved House Bill 594, a proposal to set aside Gov Roy Cooper's executive order and allow gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, yoga and dance and other studios to get back in business.

Facilities would be limited to 50 percent capacity. Weight machines and other equipment would have to be spaced out for social distancing.

Bill to reopen gyms

For exercise classes, participants would have to remain at least 6 feet apart, and doors to the room would be required to remain open to assist with air flow.

Temperature checks and masks would be required for staff, but not for customers. Equipment and surfaces would have to be thoroughly disinfected at least daily.

Gym owners addressed the committee Wednesday, saying they believe they can reopen safely with these precautions in place. Many said they're close to losing their livelihoods if they can't reopen soon.

"I don’t know what we can do, but I do know this bill at least helps do something, because I don’t think doing nothing is an option anymore for these people," said Sen Harry Brown, R-Onslow. "Unless you want to just tell ‘em all, 'We’re sorry, the gym business is out of business. You’re just not going to be able to operate anymore.' That’s the point that these people are at."

Matt Gross with the state Dept. of Health and Human Services cautioned lawmakers that even with social distancing, indoor exercise carries a higher risk of spreading the coronavirus.

When people exercise, Gross explained, they breathe harder, so if they're infected, they expel more virus that can linger in the air for longer periods of time. Indoor exercise has been at the center of large outbreaks in other countries, including South Korea.

"Studies have shown the odds for disease transmission indoors are approximately 18.7 times higher than open air environments," Gross told lawmakers.

Bill sponsor Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, pointed out that all the states surrounding North Carolina have reopened their gyms.

"Is there something that is different in their data than North Carolina?" he asked Gross.

"This is common sense and personal responsibility," said Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Scotland. "We got people cooped up. We need to let 'em get out. We need to let business get going again."

No one on the committee spoke against the measure. It passed on a unanimous bipartisan vote.

The full Senate is expected to approve the measure Monday night and send it to the state House, which could approve it and forward it to Cooper with a single vote Tuesday.

"This bill is irresponsible and disregards public health recommendations. The Governor and state health officials have laid out criteria for lifting restrictions to bolster our economy while protecting the health of North Carolinians. Governor Cooper will continue to follow the data, and work with the private sector to move forward," stated Amy Adams Ellis with the NC Department of Health and Human Services.


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