May 21, 2020
Gym rats in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are earning a reputation as municipal pests, now that their patience is running out and they want to get back to the athletic club, The Daily Beast reports.
For two months, Ken Averett Clark couldn’t lift weights at his local gym in Fort Lauderdale—the city with the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida. But by late Monday, May 18, the buff 55-year-old was closing in fast on pumping iron in public once again.
“For me, going to the gym is one of the pillars of my mental and physical health,” Clark told The Daily Beast. “I really feel like there is something missing in my life. I understand some people see it as a luxury that I can do without, and could do a home exercise regimen. For me, it’s not the same.”
On Friday, May 15, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis decided that exercise junkies like Clark could return to their workout spaces—announcing that commercial health clubs were among the nonessential businesses that would reopen this week with new safety precautions.
But there was one major problem, The Daily Beast notes: Trantalis’s move to reopen gyms came in spite of officials in Broward County—which includes the city—insisting gyms remain closed, at least for now.
At a Monday afternoon press conference in a hotel lobby attended by more than two dozen people, Trantalis asserted that Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis’ executive order allowing gyms to reopen trumped Broward’s directive. “It is our position that gyms can be opened,” Trantalis told reporters. “There is a dispute between the county and the city with regard to that order. As far as we are concerned, we should be able to resolve it by tomorrow.”
When asked if Fort Lauderdale gym owners who moved forward with reopening should be concerned about being shut down or arrested by county law enforcement, Trantalis replied, “No one is going to be arrested.”
But Broward Vice Mayor Steve Geller told The Daily Beast it was “possible” Broward code enforcers and sheriff’s deputies would go to Fort Lauderdale to make sure gyms remain closed until the county says otherwise. County Commissioners voted to send the city a warning letter on Tuesday. “We don’t need to have a confrontation,” Geller said. “I am sure we can work it out. This requires compromise from both parties and not just the county giving in.”
In the Sunshine State, working on one’s summer body is the stuff of obsession. Last week, more than two dozen people performed squats and push-ups sans face masks outside a courthouse in Clearwater, a city in central Florida, as part of a reopening protest. The gym crowd, in other words, is starting to get fed up, and health experts worry that could turn gyms into high-risk contamination zones even as the state’s COVID-19 outlook remains murky at best.
Still, there are Floridians who prefer safety to squatting. Stephanie Lavender, a 56-year-old artist and designer, told The Daily Beast that she was shocked and disappointed Trantalis was moving to reopen gyms ahead of the county’s timeline. “When this first started, the mayor took initiative when others did not,” she told The Daily Beast. “Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach were among the first cities to do stay-at-home orders and then required masks. I felt safe.”
She also questioned how gyms would be able to keep equipment clean after every use. “Gyms have the most touch points, even more than a restaurant or bar,” Lavender said. “And people are breathing hard. It’s a strong exhale. I know we have to get back to normal, but this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the reopening.”
Meanwhile, between May 16 and May 19, Fort Lauderdale recorded 22 new coronavirus cases—bringing the city’s total to 1,465. Overall, Broward saw its total number of cases jump by 121 over the same three-day period. Those are relatively modest totals, but the city’s proximity to the state’s number one hot zone—in Dade County, currently beginning its own reopening process—was not exactly cause for reassurance.
Clark, who is a member of Powerhouse Gym, said he would likely wait a week until after his health club reopened to resume his workout routine. A realtor and a professional actor, Clark said he polled people on his Facebook page about gyms reopening. “I got about 60 responses and almost every single one of them was no,” he said. “I was surprised.”
Research contact: @thedailybeast