Gym owners cautiously optimistic about inclusion in 'next steps' of reopening plan

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that he would make an announcement Friday about more plans to reopen Florida, possibly referring to 'phase two' of his three-phase plan for the state. Gyms would be among the next businesses permitted to reopen, he noted.

"We'll have a good announcement tomorrow for next steps for the rest of the state," DeSantis said at a press conference in South Florida.

Florida is currently in the first phase of the governor’s plan to reopen the state’s economy after the COVID-19 shutdowns. 

Earlier this month, DeSantis outlined his “safe, smart, step-by-step plan for Florida's recovery,” which he said would be a data-driven, cautious approach to allowing businesses to reopen while monitoring coronavirus cases. Phase one began May 4 and allowed for a partial reopening of restaurants, stores, and medical offices for all but a few South Florida counties. A week later, salons and barbershops were added to the list.

Crossfit Rebels in Clearwater shut its doors on March 17.

Gym owner Sam Farina says she has been anxiously waiting to hear something from the governor about the phase two plans.

In the meantime, she has spent the last 60 days getting her gym ready for when the governor gives the green light. She taped off areas of her gym and divided each section into station that are six feet apart from one another.

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People working out stay in thier station -- no one passes each other -- and there are sanitizer buckets for each person to clean their area before and after the workout.             

“That person is always in that station, so Misty is always in station one because she needs a little bit more help, so if Misty gets COVID, I know that Misty was always in station one and I know every athlete that was in station one and I know every athlete that was in this side of the building so we can kind of manually contact-trace based on our schedule,” said Farina

She said she carefully reviewed the CDC guidelines for how to ensure everyone is socially distanced and no one runs past one another during a workout.

On Thursday, DeSantis said Broward and Miami-Dade counties will be allowed to move on to phase one starting Monday, May 18.

Specifically, here’s what is allowed, and not allowed, under phase one:

- Restaurants can offer outdoor seating with 6-foot spacing between tables and indoor seating is limited to 25% capacity

- Retail stores can operate at 25% of indoor capacity

- Barbershops and hair salons can reopen with 25% of indoor capacity

- Elective surgeries can resume

- No changes to closures for bars, nightclubs, gyms, and theaters

- Schools remain distance-learning only

- Visits to senior living facilities are still prohibited

- Some state parks are open again

- Pharmacists may administer COVID-19 tests

- Local governments may have more restrictive policies than the state

RELATED: COVID-19 hotspots, Broward and Miami-Dade, can move on to Phase One

The governor did not offer a timeline for phase two, but said it will begin when there is no evidence of a rebound of COVID-19 cases, while still maintaining the health benchmarks outlined in the plan, potential hospital bed capacity, and COVID-19 positive testing rate.

As of Thursday, Florida had over 43,000 known COVID-19 cases and 1,875 deaths attributed to the virus.

After two peaks in early and mid-April, the state’s curve has generally flattened over the last few weeks. Since April 18, the state has averaged just under 700 new cases per day. That’s down to a level that the health care system can handle, according to DeSantis.

The governor this week invited sports leagues to resume play in Florida, but without fans in the stands.

"If you look at the different stuff, phase two really isn't all that different from what Florida has done already," DeSantis explained. "The main thing is, keep going in a good direction, keep building on success, and we'll have a good pathway forward."

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Thursday, he said that he planned a Friday announcement regarding gyms and he hinted that phase two could begin soon.

"You had certain guidelines that CDC put out and they think that gyms were a problem, so that's why they were closed. I think if you do sanitation, first of all, this is a virus where if you're in good shape, you're probably going to be OK. So why would we want to dissuade people from going to the gym to be in shape," DeSantis said. "So we're going to have an announcement on that tomorrow, but I think it's really important that people have access to gyms and to different exercises. The data on this is overwhelming. If you look at some of these jurisdictions, it's like 90-plus percent of those under the age of 65 that had fatalities, have had serious conditions and many of that is tied to obesity."

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Whenever phase two goes into effect, businesses that were still closed may finally begin to reopen, including bars, gyms, vacation rentals, sports venues, and possibly even theme parks.

Here's what may be allowed as Florida enters phase two, based on the governor’s previously released outline:

- Bars, pubs, and nightclubs that derive more than 50% of sales from alcohol should operate at 50-percent of capacity with an emphasis on diminished standing-room capacity and prioritizing outdoor service. They should keep table 6 feet apart and restrict groups to 10 or fewer people. 

- Restaurants can increase indoor capacity to 75%, with appropriate social distancing still in place and tables 6 feet apart. Parties should not exceed 10.

- Retail stores can increase capacity to 75%. Signage should promote social distancing and cleaning protocols should be in place.

- Gyms and fitness centers can reopen at 75% capacity. Social distancing and sanitation protocols must be in place and patrons should be separated by 6 feet.

- Barbershops and salons can increase capacity to 75% with regular cleanings and social distancing in place. Employees and customers are advised to wear masks and other PPE.

- Large venues, like movie theaters, concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses, and casinos, can reopen at no more than 75% capacity and with strict social distancing protocols. Parties cannot exceed 10.

- Large spectator sporting events should limit venue occupancy to 50% and use strict social distancing. 

- Theme parks may consider reopening with capacity limits, strict social distancing, and proper cleaning measures.

- Public beaches will be fully open.

- State parks will be open during the day but overnight accommodations will remain closed. Large activities and events are not permitted.

- Individuals can resume non-essential travel.

- All employers should continue to encourage teleworking while plans to implement employees back to work begin. However, all employers are advised to screen employees before they return to work for COVID-19 symptoms. If practical, take the temperature of each employee.

- Vacation rentals can open and operate for in-state reservations only. Those traveling from other states or internationally cannot place rentals.

- Local government meetings can resume with no more than 50 people in attendance.

Phase three, the final part of the plan, would be a lifting of nearly all restrictions in Florida, with a continued focus on vulnerable populations. The governor did not specify when that might happen.