Gyms can reopen in New Jersey on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced, saying the state’s progress against the coronavirus was strong enough to lift another pandemic restriction.
Indoor amusement parks are also cleared to open Tuesday. As for indoor dining and movie theaters, which are still shut down, Murphy said Wednesday he would like to make an announcement within two weeks — adding that “if the data stays as good as it is,” he hoped to allow indoor dining to resume before Sept. 14.
“Gyms are among the most challenging of indoor environments,” Murphy said. “But given where we are in this fight, we believe we are ready to take this step forward. I know this has been a long time coming.”
But after several days of low case counts, progress against the virus’ spread is now looking promising: New Jersey reported 288 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Wednesday, while Pennsylvania confirmed 501 new cases and 19 deaths. Philadelphia officials reported 13 deaths that had occurred over the last three weeks, along with 116 cases confirmed Wednesday.
One person imprisoned at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility died of the virus, the prison’s first COVID-19 death. The person, who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions, was one of 24 inmates who had tested positive since Aug. 2; a new round of testing will be done in the prison later this week, said County Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh, who is also a physician.
Nationwide, the United States has at least 5.8 million cases, while the number confirmed worldwide surpassed 24 million on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. And at colleges and universities, there have so far been more than 26,000 known cases, the New York Times reported.
The announcement about gyms in New Jersey and the governor’s hint about indoor dining represented long-awaited movement in the state’s reopening. Murphy has been cautious about loosening some restriction, particularly since states in the South and West saw major outbreaks.
Philadelphia reopened gyms on July 20. Pennsylvania allowed gyms to operate once counties reached the “green” reopening phase, which was as early as mid-June, though the state has directed fitness centers to prioritize outdoor activities.
In July, Garden State gyms were permitted to do prescheduled private workout sessions, and smaller yoga and martial-arts studios were allowed to resume operations.
But at the start of August, Murphy tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings, saying the transmission rate was too high and new cases were increasing. As late as last week he said he was not sure when indoor dining could resume because he remained concerned about reports from other states that the virus had spread via indoor activities.
On Aug. 3, the state was seeing about 1.5 more people infected for every person who contracted the virus. As of Wednesday, the state was not even seeing one new infection for every case with a transmission rate of 0.8, Murphy said.
Gyms will be required to operate at 25% capacity, with patrons required to wear masks at all times. Equipment must be six feet apart, people must sign a health waiver, and the gym must keep a log of all patrons so that people can be easily tracked and notified in the event of an outbreak.
Murphy’s wait in reopening gyms had led to a months-long standoff with the owners of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, Camden County, who defied the state guidelines multiple times, welcomed customers inside with no masks, were arrested, and this month saw their business license revoked.
On Wednesday, co-owner Frank Trumbetti criticized Murphy’s reopening protocol as lenient compared with the safety measures his gym had taken, which included providing each patron with a bottle of sanitizing spray and taking people’s temperatures. The gym originally required masks but stopped in July.
“We are shocked that his protocol is so pathetic,” Trumbetti said. “He has kept gyms closed now for 164 days and his protocol is that? Why’d you keep us closed?”
In an apparent reference to Atilis Gym, Murphy said at his news briefing: “There have been a few knuckleheads who have been more interested in their own celebrity, frankly, than in working with us to defeat the virus. But they are, thankfully, overwhelmingly outnumbered by the good guys and gals.”