Michigan gyms, pools may reopen Sept. 9; organized sports may resume, Whitmer says

Dave Boucher
Detroit Free Press

Gyms and pools long closed in Michigan due to the coronavirus pandemic are allowed to reopen on a limited basis starting Sept. 9, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday. 

Organized sports also are allowed to resume, according to a new order from state health officials. Both orders outlined the procedures and restrictions everyone needs to follow in order for businesses and sports to continue. 

Movie theaters, bowling alleys and many other businesses must in general remain closed, according to a Whitmer spokeswoman responding to questions about the new orders. Bowling alleys, ice rinks and other similar venues are only allowed to open for organized sports with limited guests, according to the orders. 

“Throughout this pandemic, we have followed the best science and data available to make decisions that will keep Michiganders safe, and our hard work is paying off. Today we are announcing the reopening of gyms and pools with strict safety measures in place to protect patrons and their families,” Whitmer said in the release. 

“I urge everyone who plans to hit the gym after these orders go into effect to take these precautions seriously and do everything in their power to protect themselves and their families. Be smart, and stay safe.” 

More:Michigan gym owners furious over 11th-hour cancellation of planned reopening

New guidance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommends against contact sports at this time, defined to mean those sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact, including football, basketball, and soccer. But it does not prohibit them from being played. 

“As we begin to start organized sports back up again, I urge school districts and athletic associations to do everything in their power to protect players, coaches, and staff. That means carefully following the guidelines released today by DHHS,” Whitmer said.

“Going forward, we will continue to work with health experts to assess the risk associated with business sectors that remain closed. For the health and safety of our families and front-line workers, it is crucial that we proceed thoughtfully and incrementally so we can measure the effects of today's actions before we take additional steps toward re-engagement."  

Gyms must follow strict guidelines if they want to reopen, including: 

  • Try to provide the option of exercising outside.
  • Maintain records showing the date and time when customers enter and leave, while collecting the names and contact information of customers. Facilities need to deny entry to anyone who does not give their name and phone number.
  • Enforce a mask mandate for all activities except swimming.
  • Only operate at 25% capacity.
  • Orient equipment and barriers to maximize social distancing, ensuring 6 feet of distance between people exercising.
  • Offer smaller classes to ensure 6 feet of separation between individuals.
  • Offer cleaning supplies for the equipment.
  • Provide hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water and similar products.
  • Regularly disinfect exercise equipment, especially right after use. Gyms can require customers to do this, but they must post signs encouraging disinfecting the equipment.
  • Make sure the ventilation systems works well.
  • Open windows and doors, use fans and do anything else that facilitates air circulation.
  • Close steam rooms, saunas, jacuzzis, and similar sites. 
  • Post signs on doors telling customers not to enter if they are sick or recently felt sick.

Outdoor pools can't operate above 50% capacity, and indoor pools must stay at or below 25% capacity, according to the orders. 

There are additional requirements for sporting events. The order appears to require wearing a mask while participating in any sport except swimming, but does not require athletes to maintain 6 feet of distance during the event. 

The order also bans fans from any live professional sporting event. 

"Contact sports, meaning sports involving more than occasional and fleeting contact, pose a challenge in the era of COVID-19 due to the closeness of the players and potential for infectious disease transmission," reads public guidance for contact sports issued by the state health department. 

"Even with mitigation measures in place, such as wearing of masks, disease transmission cannot be completely prevented when players are in prolonged or intense contact."

The vast majority of businesses closed their doors in March as Michigan grappled with quelling the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. However, in recent months, bars, restaurants and many other businesses were allowed to reopen. In northern Michigan, where the spread of the virus is limited, the majority of businesses are allowed to operate to some degree. 

Meanwhile, owners of gyms, ice arenas and other establishments throughout the Lower Peninsula have pleaded with the administration and state lawmakers for help. They argued if it was safe for students to return to school, or safe for someone to go to a casino, it should be safe for someone to enter a bowling alley. 

"I know this year and this pandemic is unlike any other. All businesses have made sacrifices," AJ Glowacki, who runs the Garden Ice Arena in St. Joseph, told lawmakers at a recent legislative hearing. 

"I believe we can open safely, and I’m all for some middle ground."

More:Desperate Michigan business owners running out of options, make emotional plea to state

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From the beginning, Whitmer and her staff have said they would only make the decision to allow businesses to reopen when science and evidence indicated it was safe to do so. 

On Aug. 25, Whitmer said she was "not going to be bullied" into reopening these facilities until it was safe to do so. The statement drew the ire of Republicans and others, arguing businesses yearning for clarity on when they could open just wanted some guidance. 

Earlier in August, business leaders from across the state called on Whitmer to allow these businesses to reopen. Not every business had the capacity to safely operate, said leaders from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other similar organizations, but those that have procedures in place should be given a chance to start accepting customers again. 

The state started fining businesses in August accused of violating state coronavirus orders. The owner of one of them, a gym in Saginaw, acknowledged they were not supposed to operate. 

"We're not supposed to be running our business, but there's no way we would have ever survived if we would have stayed closed for this long," Michelle Cooper told the Free Press in August. 

As of Wednesday, more than 103,000 Michigan residents have contracted COVID-19, resulting in more than 6,500 deaths. 

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.