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Gym owners continue working out spacing even as Gov. Cuomo eases capacity limits

Many business owners say capacity changes don't mean much with required social distancing.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo proclaimed he was opening up New York State much more as of May 19 with the state lifting capacity limits for businesses like retail stores, restaurants, gyms, salons, places of worship and more, some business owners pointed out it really has relatively little impact because of the state maintaining 6 foot social distancing guidelines as per the CDC. 

2 On Your Side checked on how this would filter down to businesses like gyms, which were especially hard hit in the pandemic.

Whether it's a gym or a restaurant, it's the same story about spacing and capacity. We heard about this just last week from Jay Manno who operates Frankie Primo's restaurant and the Soho nightclub. He said, "The occupancy really doesn't matter when you throw the 6 feet in. Right? So you're at 75 percent - it didn't make a difference to us going from 50 to 75 - you still have that 6 feet and your square footage is still your square footage."

However for gyms, which were financially weakened even more-so with a six month total shutdown last year, they'll take this eased capacity with a grain of salt for now. 

Bill Lia operates fitness centers in the Albany area and is chairman of an industry group called the New York State Fitness Alliance. He says, "Certainly we understand lifting restrictions and we're excited about that. But again there was some talk about social distancing still being in place in fitness centers and other industries working to maintain that. So I think there just needs to be some clarification."

Then there's the gym masking quandary that also needs bulked up clarification or some muscular definition. Because it's confusing for the fitness industry as owner Amy Bueme of Catalyst Fitness centers points out. 

"If the mask is on, you can have your capacity - then you don't have the 6 feet. You know, have that social distancing," Bueme said. "And it used to be that. Either 6 foot or the masks. But we have all of them. So you know we need a win."

And while they're constantly aware that they have to keep a constant eye on this 6 foot distancing inside of a business like a gym, they're also under constant scrutiny by the Erie County Health Department which can come in to check if everybody has their masks up.

"They show up and look through the whole club - make sure everything is - you know we're under compliance," Bueme said. "It happens you know a lot where somebody says 'oh someone's mask was down or somebody was too close, they weren't social distancing' and we are on this every day."

Bueme says she has also lost clients who would not follow the rules on keeping masks up while in the gyms and that has hurt her business as well. They are told they must comply or the gym could be shut down. 

Bueme says they cannot risk a violation with a fine or a shutdown. That's in an industry which the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association trade group says has already lost over 15 percent of such businesses.

While businesses were eligible for PPP funding, they are also attempting a heavy lift by in addition seeking some federal funding assistance for gyms and fitness center operators just like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. They hope to get a $30 billion bill for such business assistance passed by Congress.