NEWPORT — In absence of any official indication of when fitness centers will be permitted to reopen, Newport resident and business operator Heidi North has started to speak out. Owner of Newport Fitness & Spa, North wrote last week to Gov. Chris Sununu in an appeal to classify gyms as an “essential business.”

“It is clear that this [fitness] industry is being ignored [by the governor’s reopening task force],” North told the Eagle Times on Wednesday.

North briefly reopened her gym last week on Monday, May 11, but closed the business two days later after Newport Police Department officers delivered North a letter from New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald which detailed potential penalties on businesses that violate the governor’s emergency orders.

North said she wants to stay in compliance but is frustrated by the state’s discrimination against the fitness industry while allowing businesses such as liquor stores to operate, despite receiving proposed safety guidelines from the fitness industry on Tuesday, May 5.

In a reopening proposal to the task force, Michael Benton, a New Hampshire fitness facility operator, said that, if permitted to reopen, fitness facility regulations would include: reducing their occupancy and class sizes; spacing workout stations at least 8 feet apart; keeping saunas and steam rooms closed; and strict policies for frequent equipment sanitizing, social distancing and masks.

Benton said he hoped the state would reopen gyms by Monday, May 18. But the state still has made no indication when gyms may get the green light.

In her letter to Sununu, North asserted that fitness centers are essential to people in law enforcement and fire departments, whose members often use private gyms to exercise and condition, which is required in their occupations.

“Across the country, a significant portion of the gym-going population includes police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, corrections officers and firefighters,” North wrote. “Here in New Hampshire, as is the case in most states, individuals seeking employment as law enforcement officers, corrections officers or firefighters must pass a physical fitness test prior to their hiring and appointment, and in many instances [including New Hampshire] police officers must maintain that standard in order to maintain their certification and appointment.”

North said she is well stocked with disinfectant, hand sanitizer, masks and touchless thermometers. Gym members would need to take their temperature prior to using the gym. She will reduce the maximum occupancy to approximately 20 people. With 8,000 square feet, the gym is currently allowed 38. Masks will be available for members who wish to have one.

“I would never do anything to harm my community,” North said.

North said that people should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to frequent businesses or stay at home. People with compromised immune systems should not be made to work, though the state should also factor the demographics and regions most affected by the pandemic, rather than lump all New Hampshire communities under the same guidelines.

Sullivan County has 16 of the state’s 3,868 confirmed cases as of Thursday, May 21, the second fewest of any county behind Coos which has four.

“Some members have said that they aren’t comfortable going back to a gym right now, and that’s fine,” North said. “But if other members are saying they feel comfortable and want to use the gym, they should be able to.”

Though the exercise floor remains closed, North has been operating the juice bar, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving away free frozen yogurt and smoothies to gym members. North said she is grateful for her members who still want to support her during this period.

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