It’s safe to say while growing up in Winston-Salem and attending Mt. Tabor High School in the 1990s, Doug Warf probably never imagined he’d one day become well-versed on the inner workings of the North Carolina General Assembly.
But that’s exactly what’s happen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m getting a crash course in the North Carolina legislature,” he told me during a recent virtual interview.
Warf is the president of the O2 Fitness Chain. Based in Raleigh, it’s one of the largest privately-owned chains of fitness centers in North and South Carolina.
Recently, O2 Fitness joined three other fitness chains to form Fitness Operators for Responsible Reopening (FORR). It’s mission, convince North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and his team that gyms, fitness centers and health clubs can reopen safely.
With the help of an epidemiologist and others, FORR came up with what is now a 15-step plan that includes — among other things — a 40 percent capacity mandate, spacing equipment six feet apart and hand sanitizing stations.
He says many don’t realize state building code requires HVAC air circulation in gyms to be four times stronger than that of an office and two times that of a restaurant.
“So, that’s kind of step one,” he said. “You have to have solid air circulation. And then step two is spacing. Six feet is what a lot of people will hear. But it’s really closer to eight to 10 feet on cardio. That’s why we’re saying you have to shut down every other piece of cardio (equipment).”
He also said gyms, unlike most businesses, already have a contact tracing process set up.
“If someone went into a Target with the coronavirus. There are 400 to 500 people who are at risk by that person being in Target,” he said. “Target doesn’t know their shoppers. We know every one of our members. And if something does happen, we’re one of the only businesses in the state that can notify every single person who’s in that time frame.”
But despite all these points to convince the state otherwise, Warf says it’s still too late for many gym operators.
“We hear from probably five or six a day. They say they are done, that they will not reopen when they can because they have kind of reached the end of their financial road,” he said.
But, he adds, it’s untrue and unfair to call gyms “unsafe” during this pandemic.
“Gyms need to be open at the right capacity. But if done properly (reopening gyms following the guidelines or “steps” the FORR group has proposed) it can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
For more information on FORR, its suggested steps/guidelines for reopening and what you need to look for at a gym when it is allowed to reopen, click here.