Image courtesy of the YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The YMCA expressed concerns about not being able to open due to the newly released Phase Four guidelines.

Phase Four, which is anticipated to start on June 26, has not been officially announced by the Governor yet. However, the state has released guidelines for institutions such as higher education and media production.  

In the statement written by Kyle Stewart, the Executive Director for the Alliance of the New York State YMCA’s, the non-profit organization draws attention to gyms and fitness centers not being included in Phase Four opening plans. 

“As a non-profit force for good, YMCAs play a vital role in the physical health and economic vitality of communities across New York State,” wrote Stewart. “The Governor’s abrupt decision to prohibit YMCAs from reopening in Phase Four is completely unwarranted.”

There are a total of 37 YMCAs with 140 locations in the state, one of them being in Tompkins. Stewart also drew attention to the non-profit activities of the organization, adding that they run services such as food distribution and housing programs, which have been active during the pandemic. In a letter campaign organized by New York State YMCA CEOs, the organization hopes to draw attention to the services provided by local hubs.  

“YMCAs are not just a gym,” said Frank Towner, CEO of Ithaca YMCA. “It’s a community hub for emotional, mental, and physical connection.” 

Towner added that while the building is not in use, the YMCA, with the help of other community organizations, kept assisting the local community with guidance for healthy living through food services, and exercise videos during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Stewart says that YMCAs have recalled furloughed employees and have been improving cleaning protocols, training their staff as well as redesigning spaces in order to follow health and safety practices set by the CDC and the Department of Health — all with a view of opening as part of Phase Four.

“As Phase Four drew closer, our YMCAs carefully planned every aspect of reopening to ensure the lowest risk possible to our staff and community,” noted Stewart. 

For the local YMCA, Towner noted that they are ready for a July 6, soft opening. Adding that there are multiple phases for opening all operations, Towner said that the first round of opening preparations are in full swing and staff is currently working to ensure that social distancing can be practiced while exercising. 

In round one, all members are required to wear masks unless they are doing high-level exercises such as running. In addition, there will be no changing or waiting rooms, and treadmills and elliptical machines have been spread over to three different rooms to practice social distancing. Members would also need to sign up for appointments in order to use the swimming pools.

With the approval from the State, the local YMCA is preparing a children’s day camp on July 6, added Towner. At the soft opening, 20 children will be taken in and if safety guidelines are followed properly, Towner hopes to increase this number to 50. 

With more than 1.5 million members and 35,000 employees, the State YMCA’s are also concerned about finances, worrying that the inability to open will place a financially challenging pause on the locations, according to the press release. 

“We are thankful for our board, community, and sustainable membership for our financial stability,” added Towner, adding that several members continued to pay their fees even though the facilities were not open.