As COVID cases continue to rise across North Carolina, several gyms and fitness centers are reopening. They’re taking advantage of a loophole in Governor Cooper’s executive order. Others have already been open for the past few months, citing that same loophole. But their position is at odds with official guidance.

The loophole

Phase 2 – the “Safer at Home” phase of the governor’s COVID plan – is currently in place until September 11 (though it may again get extended). It requires gyms and fitness centers to remain closed, but provides a limited exception for patrons with a medical need to exercise, as “prescribed or directed by a medical professional.” The order directs gyms and fitness centers to require documentation as proof of medical necessity. Gyms and fitness centers are claiming they can’t ask for that documentation because of privacy and discrimination laws. They’re essentially operating on the honor system.

Guidance from the state

Indoor gyms pose a high risk of transmission due to the forceful exhalation that occurs while exercising. Gyms that continue to operate under the medical exception must follow detailed guidance from the state, including measures such as:

  • Limiting capacity
  • Observing social distancing
  • Requiring masks or face coverings at all times
  • Sanitizing equipment regularly
  • Screening employees for symptoms
  • Ensuring proper ventilation and airflow

The state’s position is that the scope of the medical exception is extremely narrow. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, gyms shouldn’t be using the loophole as a green light to reopen.

Meanwhile, COVID cases continue to climb. The positive test rate is nearly 9 percent – a far cry above the goal of 5 percent.

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