The Situation in Bellmawr and other Gym Dramas


The owners of a gym in Bellmawr have been two of the most defiant figures of the pandemic – kicking down their own doors and reopening in the face of repeated state shut-down orders.

They’re outliers to be sure, but the issue is a real one.

Gyms and health clubs remain closed in New Jersey and it’s reasonable to wonder how long this will go on. When the issue pops up at the governor’s briefings, Phil Murphy generally says his overriding concern is that the virus spreads much quicker indoors than it does outside. He does say that gyms are open to families for private sessions.

That. of course, doesn’t seem to cut it. One critic compared that to the state offering starving people bread crumbs when they want a buffet.

A number of gym owners appeared today in a Zoom hearing before a Senate committee formed to help the state’s economic recovery.

The message from about a half-dozen owners was consistent – gym and health clubs serve society by allowing people to remain in good physical condition.

That’s not an idle concern.

As was repeatedly brought up, too many Americans are overweight. Then, you have the stress of the pandemic.

“Healthy exercise really allows people to cope with those problems,” said Craig Benson of Planet Fitness, who also knows something about politics. He used to be the Republican governor of New Hampshire.

Republican Steve Oroho, a co-chair of the committee, agreed, saying, “Those who keep healthy are generally able to fight off (the virus) better.”

The owners contended they understand the dangers of the virus and are ready to institute necessary rules and regulations.

You want an example?

One of the owners, Kevin McHugh, says that at a tennis club he operates, tennis balls are sanitized every hour. Outdoor tennis clubs were permitted to reopen a few months ago.

McHugh said it’s simply time for gyms and health clubs to reopen in New Jersey. If you are keeping count, they’ve been closed for 143 days.

“It’s about saving an industry,” he said. “Can we please have a date?”

He and others said “opening up” is not an end-all. They still will have the challenge of rehiring staff and bringing back customers. But it’s a challenge they want to take.

Few committee members disagreed with what they heard, although Democratic Sen. Teresa Ruiz said she was concerned asymptomatic people could visit a gym and spread the virus to others.

Democrat Paul Sarlo, the other co-chair, said he understands a lot of gym owners are angry and frustrated, adding that he wishes the press would concentrate more on those who are following the law.

“The situation in Bellmawr has not been helpful,” Sarlo said.

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