ALBANY — Officials cast doubt Thursday that gyms would reopen in New York as the coronavirus pandemic continues and the state mulls reopening schools this fall.
Gyms and similar exercise facilities in other states that remained open, or have reopened, have been tied to COVID-19 clusters or hot spots.
“We have data here — we know gyms are highly problematic,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a conference call Thursday afternoon. “We’re here poised delicately on this island of New York State with a sea of spread all around us, and we have to be very, very careful.”
Gov. Cuomo and his top aides in the state’s coronavirus task force have said for weeks they are studying the national and international impact of reopening gyms and the COVID-19 transmission rate.
“We are looking at it every day,” state Budget Director Rob Mujica said Thursday. “Health experts nationally have identified gyms and the activities as high-risk activities. ... They’ll continue to remain closed until they can open safely.”
Gyms have also not reopened in the neighboring state of New Jersey, but have reclosed in others, such as California and Florida, which reopened gyms in May and June, but reclosed indoor exercise facilities last month as the virus has soared across the West and Southeast. Gyms across the state have submitted reopening plans to resume business while adhering to social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. “We’re reviewing those to see if there is an opportunity to reduce the risk based on this limited activity,” Mr. Mujica said. “We’re looking at various alternatives right now. It’s still high-risk activity and has caused clusters in other states.”
New York’s new coronavirus cases have remained at a daily constant low of roughly 1 percent positive. The virus has spiked in New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island over the past week.
“It is all around us — literally all around us,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It almost defies common sense that we could be maintaining our low numbers in the midst of what’s going on. The question is, why isn’t it here?
“‘Let’s open dangerous activities.’ I don’t think that is the time to do it. We’re precariously perched.”
On Friday, the governor is expected to announce the state’s decision to allow students to return to school, colleges and universities this fall. Schools may reopen by region depending on an area’s viral transmission rate, Gov. Cuomo said.
“If the viral transmission rate increases significantly, then we will close the schools, but there is more to this equation than just the viral transmission rate,” he said. “The situation is very different across the state. Regions are in different positions across the state.”
Last month, the state released guidance detailing schools could reopen in September for regions in Phase IV of reopening with a COVID-19 infection rate under 5 percent over a 14-day average. Schools will close if a region’s infection rate surges above 9 percent over a seven-day average since Aug. 1.
The governor repeated Thursday parents and teachers must be satisfied with a district’s reopening plans, including how often students, faculty and staff will be tested for COVID-19, where the testing supplies and capacity will come from and how long it will take for results to come back.
“If the teachers say ‘I’m not coming back,’ or the parents say ‘I’m not sending my child,’ whatever the school district says is irrelevant,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These conversations have to happen on an individual basis. I field calls from teachers and parents all day long. They have serious concerns, and they should.
“...If the teacher doesn’t show up, you can’t open the class. If the parent doesn’t send their child, there’s no child to educate, and that is inarguable.”
State officials continue to monitor New York’s COVID-19 numbers as the virus soars across the U.S., the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The state reported 570 virus patients in the hospital Thursday.
Three New Yorkers died from the virus Wednesday, down from four on Tuesday. The state’s virus-related fatalities have fluctuated below 15 per day for nearly two months.
The state reported 703 new COVID-19 cases Thursday of 72,370 test results returned, or about 0.97 percent positive.