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Reopening of gyms, fitness centers halted for now by Broward County

When we launched the reopening of Fort Lauderdale this week, we wanted to allow residents to return to gyms as well as restaurants, retail stores and salons.

Gov. DeSantis had given the green light to communities across the state of Florida to follow this course of action. It was to be part of the first phase of relaunching our economy in light of the recent downturn in the COVID-19 infection rate.

But shortly after the city issued an executive order Saturday that included gyms in the reopening plan, Broward County government swooped in and undercut our efforts. The county administrator ordered gyms to remain closed despite the governor’s actions.  

It marked the first time that the county directly contradicted an order of the governor during the COVID-19 response efforts. There were even threats to fine gym owners up to $15,000 and to make arrests.

Lawyers disagree whether the county or city order takes precedence. But given the standoff, Fort Lauderdale is advising gym owners to keep their establishments closed for the time being.

We don’t want anyone fined or arrested because of this intergovernmental quarrel. We continue to work hard to persuade the county to change its stance.

It makes no sense to keep gyms closed. Our efforts to fight COVID-19 have worked well. We met all public health measurements to move into Phase 1 of reopening.

The infection rates have steeply declined in our community. We went from a high of 13% of test results being positive during the week of April 11 to under 4% each of the past two weeks. Testing is now widely available, and our hospitals are again operating normally.

Gyms, in fact, can open safely and have done so in other large cities in Florida, including Tampa and Orlando, as well as in neighboring Palm Beach County.

Fort Lauderdale’s plans include cautious and prudent safeguards to protect public health, similar to those instituted for other businesses. A blue-ribbon working group of business executives, neighborhood leaders, and medical professionals developed the ideas.

Their recommendations are that gyms not exceed 50 percent of their capacity. We require employees to wear face masks and have health checks before they start work each day. Patrons are required to have their temperature checked upon entry and denied access if they have a fever. Machines and equipment stations are to be spaced six feet apart and sanitized after each use.

In addition, fitness classes are to maintain the six-foot distancing requirement between participants. Showers are to be closed. Hand sanitizer must be provided at all entrances, and all patrons and employees are to sanitize upon entrance.

Exercise and maintaining good health are important components in the fight against COVID-19. I continue to hope that we will be allowed to open our gyms – as well as our beaches – in the near future. 

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