Florida gyms reopen Monday. Will people go?

Gov. Ron DeSantis is opening gyms after a nearly two-month shutdown. Here’s how people across Tampa Bay responded to the news.
A view of the gym at the Manor Riverwalk  in Tampa, Florida.
A view of the gym at the Manor Riverwalk in Tampa, Florida. [ Times (2019) ]
Published May 15, 2020|Updated May 15, 2020

Donna Williams has worked out six days a week for the past 20 years. The South Tampa resident boxes and lifts weights. She follows along with Beachbody fitness DVDs. She runs seven miles a week.

“I certainly am inclined to understand the wanting to go back to the gym,” said Williams, 55. “But I also understand that peoples’ lives are at stake.”

Gyms will be the next business to reopen across Florida, Gov. DeSantis announced Friday afternoon. But for Williams, a trip back to the gym isn’t worth it. She is the caretaker for her sole living relative: her 83-year-old mother, who has dementia and had a heart attack in November.

“She’s doing very well, and does not have COVID, thank God,” Williams said. “But I am very sensitive to protecting her and all the other at-risk people that many are overlooking just to get back to their lives.”

Related: Ron DeSantis: Florida Gyms will reopen starting Monday

The Times asked readers on Twitter and Facebook how they felt about the next step in Florida’s reopening. Nearly 200 people responded in two hours. (These responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

Some, like, Scott Smith, are ecstatic to return to their normal workouts. Smith plans to go back to the Tyrone LA Fitness location and wipe down each machine before and after he uses it, just like he usually does.

“I’m 46 and healthy," he wrote on Facebook. “Not living in fear. Could die in a car accident tomorrow!!!!”

He added, “I actually hope nobody goes so I can have the whole gym to myself.”

Josh Whitt, 27, can’t wait to get back to his barbell and kettlebell routine at Rockstar Fitness in Sanford.

“I feel like we shouldn’t be forced to not take care of ourselves because others are afraid," Whitt tweeted. "Stay home, it’s your choice. My choice is working out at a gym next week.”

For others, new financial circumstances will make the choice for them.

“With no income recently, I can’t afford to head back to the gym,” tweeted Michael Lortz. “Even if I could, I would only use the treadmill or bike. Not hopping machines and definitely not using free weights.”

Sarah Jade will only be reopening the Tampa location of her business, Buttercup Pole Dance. The two-month closure forced her to shut down her other location in Clearwater Beach permanently.

She tweeted: “It has come to a point where I just have to open or I’m going to lose everything.”

Candace Savitz, 67, got a preview of what reopened gyms would be like. She’s been attending St. Joseph Adult Physical therapy three times a week after getting a hip replacement in March. Savitz said everyone has been wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

“As soon as you’re done on a machine or the workout bars, a nice cleaning man wipes everything down ASAP,” she said. “I feel safe there and would hope gyms will follow the same safety protocols.”

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Justin Michael of Valrico doesn’t feel as optimistic.

“With how people didn’t wipe equipment down before this outbreak, I’m good,” Michael, 31, tweeted. “I was already tired of having to spend 10+ minutes each day cleaning equipment and wandering around trying to find crap cause people don’t put anything back.”

Ray and Susan Mazola, 67 and 57, are also staying home. The Spring Hill couple came down with nasty cases of suspected coronavirus in late February and early March.

It took about six weeks for Ray Mazola’s chest to start to clear up. Susan Mazola is still trying to recover.

Ray Mazola is weary of exercising in an enclosed space after learning about what happened during the March 10 choir practice in Washington State. After two and a half hours of singing, 53 of the 61 members were infected with COVID-19. Two died.

“We suspect that running on a treadmill will put more particles out,” he wrote on Facebook. “We will wait.”

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