Thanks to the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, residents throughout North Carolina were finally allowed to return this weekend to the gyms and other fitness venues that they frequented in happier days. We know it’s a great relief and celebrate with them.
We also offer a word of caution: Don’t let down your guard; it’s not over yet.
Beginning on Friday, North Carolina moved into what Gov. Roy Cooper called “Phase 2.5.” Playgrounds were once again allowed to be open. Fitness centers, gyms, indoor exercise centers, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor basketball and volleyball centers, and others may now be open at 30% indoor capacity. Museums and aquariums may open at 50% capacity.
But those who use these facilities must still wear masks and practice social distancing.
“Safer at Home Phase 2.5 continues our state’s dimmer switch approach to easing some restrictions,” Gov. Roy Cooper said last week. "In fact, a new phase is exactly when we need to take this virus even more seriously.
The restrictions, first put in place May 22, prevented health nuts and gym rats — we say affectionately — from using exercise facilities’ weight machines, treadmills, swimming pools and yoga mats in group settings. The risk of viral transmission was too high, especially when people would be breathing and perspiring heavily around others.
It was a double blow because of the value of regular exercise in fighting stress, which has surely increased significantly under the pandemic.
The restrictions also placed a financial strain on the business owners and organizations that operate those facilities.
Many made do at home, though, or extended their routines to include outdoor venues.
But some find that fitness venues help them maintain the motivation they need to be consistent in their exercise routines. Dumbbells at home just aren’t the same.
So we hope that the limited opening will bring everyone involved a sense of relief.
But everyone who enters the door must still take precautions — maybe more than ever before. Moving to Phase 2.5 doesn’t eliminate the risk of viral transmission. If anything, the virus should reinforce notions of hygiene in the gym that we knew before but weren’t taking that seriously.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's health secretary, offered a few words of caution last week: “As we take modest steps forward today, it’s important to remember that moving forward doesn’t mean letting up on slowing the spread of the virus ... especially as we head into flu season."
Cohen said the 30% capacity level for indoor fitness facilities will help limit exposure to the coronavirus. “There’s just a higher likelihood for the spread of viral respiratory droplets, so we wanted to be more restrictive,” she said.
Cohen cautioned that “just because we are easing restrictions by gyms doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. People need to consider their own personal and their family’s health risks with COVID.”
Among those who welcomed the news was Dixon Douglas, owner of the CycleBar location in downtown Winston-Salem. “I appreciate the conservative measures our (state) government has taken, but I can't explain how thrilled our team is to get back to work and continue to make a difference in peoples' lives here in Winston-Salem.”
Exercise is an important health tool anytime, but it’s especially welcome during the pandemic. Regular exercise helps people control medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. It helps keep the immune system strong and stress levels low. For many, it provides important social contact.
Cutting off access to exercise facilities was a calculated risk. It surely prevented many more infections. Precautions must be maintained so that reopening doesn’t lead to regret.
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