Gyms, fitness centers reopen


By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Joe Dalessandro, 66, of Naugatuck, exercises on a stationary bike at The Club Health and Fitness in Naugatuck on June 23. Fitness centers and gyms were allowed to reopen their doors on June 17 as part of the second phase of the state’s reopening plan, after being closed for three months to limit the spread of COVID-19. –ANDREAS YILMA

Joe Gworek, owner of The Club Health and Fitness in Naugatuck, compared the reopening of his gym to the excitement a child feels on Christmas morning.

“Everybody is excited. Everybody wants to be out. Everybody wants to be active,” Gworek said. “So, it makes a big difference seeing people just come back and being happy with smiles on their faces.”

Fitness centers and gyms were allowed to reopen their doors on June 17 as part of the second phase of the state’s reopening plan, after being closed for three months to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The state’s guidelines require gyms to operate at 50% of capacity, with 6 feet of space between equipment. Under state guidelines, visitors must wear masks; if gyms do not require masks while exercising, those facilities must place equipment 12 feet apart.

Gworek said he’s not requiring members to wear masks.

On the morning of June 23, a couple dozen members were exercising at The Club on Prospect Street.

Joe Dalessandro, 66 of Naugatuck, said he missed the gym and wasn’t worried about coming back.

“I need it,” said Dalessandro while he pedaled on an exercise bike. “I’m a senior, so this cardio helps me out a lot.”

Achieve Fitness owner and personal trainer Jen Toomey said she was lucky she didn’t have to rearrange the facility. Her studio on New Haven Road in Prospect operates through appointments with a trainer. People aren’t required to wear masks, but instructors will wear one if asked by a member, she said.

“There were a few people who were a little apprehensive about leaving their house,” Toomey said. “When they came in and saw how clean everything was and how I cleaned, they were relaxed. They felt more comfortable being out.”

Toomey said she hasn’t had to make many changes.

“I clean as I’m training them. Throughout the area, everything is being cleaned,” Toomey said. “It’s easy, given I have a person per hour. I immediately disinfect things.”

At The Club, the lockers rooms — excluding the bathrooms — and the shake bar still remain closed. Members will also notice an increase sanitizing stations and spray bottles to clean off equipment.

Gworek said staff regularly sanitize the gym and equipment. He said he also hired a company to clean the gym three times a week, and another company to spray touch points and equipment with an electrostatic fogger.

Gworek said he was nervous before the reopening, but happy to see many people show up on the first day. He’s optimistic more gym members will return as time goes on.

“Hopefully, we get them back sooner than later because working out is a vital thing for mental health, physical, emotional, like everything. You can see all the stuff that’s going on in the world right now. People need stress relief,” Gworek said. “So, it’s a major thing. That’s why I feel like a gym should’ve been essential when we were shut down and just leave it up to the members.”

The last three months have been tough, Toomey said, adding she stayed in touch with some clients virtually through a cellphone streaming app.

“It’s been terrible being closed and still having the bills rolling in. I was able to have FaceTime workouts with people who had equipment in their homes,” Toomey said. “It’s been rough on a lot of people”

A consumer survey by Harrison Co. found that the fitness club industry could lose $10 billion annually as the pandemic has forced many members to cancel their memberships. The same survey found 34% of gym exercisers already have or plan to cancel their gym membership, and that more than 20 million gym memberships could be canceled due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, demand for home exercise equipment has soared, often outpacing supply.

Both gym owners stressed the overall value of exercise for peoples’ health.

“It’s important for your mental health. Everyone has been isolated, mental health is just as important as physical health,” Toomey said. “Everyone was cooped up and it takes a toll on your mental and physical health.”

Gworek said, “We’re doing everything we can and doing our part to make sure that everybody stays strong, stays healthy and even healthier. God forbid something does come back in the fall. People are going to be better fit to fight off any viruses or disease.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.