VALATIE — One local business owner is saying enough to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY on Pause order and is hoping to reopen soon.
ClubLife Health & Fitness, 3143 Highway 9, in Valatie, posted the following on its Facebook page: “.03% chance of dying from China Virus. This rate is only dropping. This was a planned sabotage on our nation. Open back up. Open your business, go back to school.”
The post was later edited to replace “China Virus” with “Coronavirus,” which ClubLife owner Alex Rosenstrach said was a “social experiment.”
But some people aren’t buying that explanation.
Joel Funk, of Stuyvesant, commented on the post, calling the term “China Virus” racist.
“It’s one thing to say that the virus originated in China because that is fact,” Funk said Tuesday. “To refer to it as the China Virus uses language that perpetuates hatred for China and Chinese people and assigns blame to a particular group of people. It’s insensitive and dangerous for a pillar of the community to spout blind misinformation and use language that feeds into fear-mongering and hatred on a public forum.”
There has been an uptick in hate crimes against the Chinese community, Funk said.
A March 12 post on the ClubLife Facebook page referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Wuhan Coronavirus.”
ClubLife closed March 16 at 8 p.m., following the statewide mandate to close casinos, gyms and movie theaters. Other non-essential businesses closed March 22.
ClubLife posted on its Facebook page April 5 it was required to stop charging membership dues while the state-mandated nonessential business closures persist, but asked members to support a local business by continuing to pay.
The gym, which has been open for six years, has about 2,000 members and is not part of a franchise, Rosenstrach said.
ClubLife member Cecelia Caska decided to continued to pay her monthly dues throughout the closure. She wanted to help the gym to reopen when the time is right and to retain employees, if possible.
“It’s a great gym,” Caska said. “The people there are wonderful, I’ve told people that from the beginning.”
Nearly 600 comments on Monday’s post were divided on the issue.
Caska, a member of the Valatie Rescue Squad, said she has family members in other parts of the state who have been affected by COVID-19 and her daughter is pregnant. She has had three recent deaths in her extended family from other causes, and never got to say goodbye because of the virus.
She was disappointed in Monday’s post, saying although she understands Rosenstrach’s frustrations, a business Facebook page is not the place to air his frustrations.
“I felt like the post that Alex posted up there seemed to minimalize what this is all about,” Caska said. “His minimalizing the death toll just struck a chord with me.”
Andrea Arlyn described one of her experiences with ClubLife.
When Arlyn tried to cancel her membership at ClubLife, she said she was greeted by the following Facebook message from the gym’s official page: “Didn’t you already block us? Or are you just trying to be the a**hole everyone knows you to be? You never exactly used the place anyway.”
Arlyn shared the exchange on Facebook, saying she couldn’t believe the name-calling and level of unprofessionalism.
Rosenstrach has been accused of deleting posts and negative comments, which he denied.
“I have not deleted any posts,” Rosenstrach said. “I personally have not deleted any of my comments or anyone else’s.”
New York will reopen by region, Cuomo said Monday, but there is no timeline. Low-risk businesses, like construction and manufacturing, will be the first to reopen.
State officials are speaking with essential businesses about plans to reopen safely, including protection for vulnerable staff, maintaining social distancing, limited gathering sizes and adequate personal protective equipment, before reopening.
“These are all factors for businesses to consider who want to reopen quickly,” Cuomo said. “The way a business opens determines the risk.”
Columbia County is absolutely ready to reopen, Rosenstrach said, and his business has a plan to present to the county Health Department.
“I think it’s going to be awesome for our state,” Rosenstrach said. “Our area in general, we’re not in a very densely populated region, and I think social distancing kind of comes naturally around here, so I think that we’re in an advantageous position for that.”
Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said COVID-19 could be a long-term struggle in the county.
“Those of us who are working day-to-day expect to be at it day-to-day for a long time, as the virus may well return in waves,” Mabb said. “Long term, our society is going to be much different going forward. We can’t go back to normal because normal clearly didn’t work.”
On April 28, Columbia saw the largest daily increase of positive COVID-19 cases, jumping from 154 to 169. By Wednesday, that number increased to 175 positive cases. To date, 1,219 county residents have been tested for the coronavirus. Thirteen residents have died, which has not changed since April 22.
Rosenstrach said he commended politicians on both sides of the aisle for how they have been handling COVID-19, adding that he would not want to be in their shoes right now.
“I think that initially with an unknown novel virus, that’s kind of a dire situation, and I think that to take all the proper precautions is necessary for the good of the people and to keep everybody well, safe and healthy,” he said. “As time has gone on, we have had much more information roll in, more data come in, and it turns out that the novel coronavirus is not nearly as bad as the media has made it out to be.”
Working as a paramedic in the South Bronx during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, Rosenstrach said, essential workers were not looking for hazard pay or notoriety.
“You sign up for that job,” he said. “You don’t sign up for that job for only when times are good, you sign up for that job knowing that when there’s a natural disaster, pandemic, catastrophe, a terrorist attack, that you are the one that’s stepping up to the plate.”
Jennie Velonis, who owns Deep Xposure, a tanning salon in South Cairo, was visited by the Greene County Sheriff’s Office after an anonymous complaint was filed against her business for violating the social distancing order.
Velonis posted on her Facebook page asking clients if they wanted to set up tanning on April 24 by appointment only. About 30 clients responded that they would.
“We responded to an anonymous complaint made to the NYS Pause Hotline claiming that they were taking customers,” Greene County Sheriff Pete Kusminsky said. “Our goal is to inform people about the governor’s orders regarding essential businesses and that a complaint was made.”
Velonis could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office will not go further than explaining to people that it would be in their best interest to abide by the social-distancing guidelines, Kusminsky said Tuesday.
“We have no control over what, if any, action that Code Enforcement or the Department of State would do with regards to potential fines or licensing,” he said.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office has responded to several complaints and no one was found in violation of the orders when sheriff’s deputies investigated, Kusminsky said.
“We have not found anyone that has been continuing to violate Pause orders, so I would not speculate on what might happen at this time,” Kusminsky said. “As far as businesses go, it may be up to the municipality if they chose to involve Code Enforcement or not.”
The sheriff’s office informs businesses of the governor’s executive orders when responding to complaints, then the state follows up with local departments on investigations into complaints.
There is a $1,000 maximum fine for violating the state’s social-distancing protocol.
“In any event, we are asking that people respect others’ concerns in regards to the potential spread of this virus and the importance of doing our part to ensure public safety,” Kusminsky said.
Greene County Legislature Chairman Pat Linger said over 1,000 residents have been tested for COVID-19, with many tested outside of the county due to lack of test kits in Greene County. The tests revealed 11% positive results for COVID-19 and 89% testing negative for the virus.
“The Greene County Legislature shares the concern of many of our residents that the number of test kits available may greatly impact the ability of our businesses and attractions to reopen safely in a timely manner,” Linger said.
Abby Hoover and Matt Fortunato are reporters for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org.