MALONE –– Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to exclude YMCAs from the list of facilities that will be allowed to reopen at the beginning of phase four could threaten the organization’s future, the head of the Ys in Malone and Plattsburgh said Wednesday.
Cuomo announced Wednesday that five regions of the state, including the North Country, were on track to enter phase four of the state’s four-phase reopening. The move would allow low-risk outdoor and indoor arts and entertainment such as area museums and historic sites to resume operation today, with indoor mall access, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor recreation facilities to follow once additional guidelines are implemented, Cuomo said.
However, Cuomo incorrectly lumped facilities such as the YMCA in with gyms, Plattsburgh/Malone YMCA CEO
Justin Ihne said.
“We’re so much more than a gym,” Ihne said, citing wellness programs, youth activities and other offerings the Y has for the community. The facility is “an essential part of our community” and should be among those places and programs that can open immediately, he said.
The longer the Y has to remain closed, the deeper the financial hole it will have to climb out of, Ihne said.
The Y relies heavily on membership fees to survive, and while roughly 60% of current members have continued to pay their membership dues despite being unable to use the facility, that generosity is likely to continue for only so long, he said. Recovering from the current revenue losses will be difficult, he said, and the longer the situation drags on, the more difficult it will become.
“It could be a serious challenge … for us to be here in the next few years,” Ihne said. The delay in reopening will be “incredibly detrimental” to the organization’s future, he said.
Cuomo’s decision regarding YMCAs meant a putting “a disruptive, and frankly, expensive halt to their reopening plans,” Kyle Stewart, executive director for the Alliance of New York State YMCAs, said in a statement. “The consequences of the Governor’s action have not only damaged the Y’s fitness operations, but has put the viability of the non-profit services we deliver to over 1.5 million New Yorkers in jeopardy.”
Ihne noted that the local Ys are already offering child care programs for essential workers, so have experience in providing services while maintaining safety measures and ensuring employees have personal protective equipment to block the spread of the virus. He also noted that the Ys have been working on plans for reopening for some time and have taken a number of steps to be sure their facilities will be safe when they do reopen.
“I believe we’ve checked the boxes,” he said.
At the Greater Malone Area YMCA, work to prepare for reopening has been underway for several weeks. That work has included the installation of new signs reminding patrons to wear masks, wash their hands and maintain social distancing, according to Y senior program director Donna Studlack.
Work crews have been moving equipment to help ensure social distancing guidelines are met, and locker rooms, showers and other areas where people could potentially congregate have been closed. The number of people allowed in fitness rooms and other locations will be limited, as will the time users will have in those spaces, she said.
And the entire facility has undergone a deep cleaning, with a similar effort to take place every evening after the Y closes, Studlack added.
Despite all the work that has been done, Ihne said reopening the Y is not just a matter of “turn the key and open the door.” The organization will require at least several days once it is informed it can reopen to make sure everything that can be done to ensure patrons’ safety has been done –– even with all the work that has already taken place, he said.
Ihne also noted that the state has not yet issued guidelines for what still has to be done to permit reopening.
“Since closing our fitness operations in March, YMCAs have renovated their facilities, adjusted their cleaning protocols, and physically redesigned their spaces in order to create an environment that exceeds the health and safety best practice guidelines from the CDC and Department of Health,” Stewart said. “At this point, we could write the operational guidelines ourselves.”
Ihne said he and other Y leaders across the state are working with their representatives in Albany and the Cuomo administration to push for a quicker timeline for reopening.
“We strongly encourage Governor Cuomo to reconsider his assessment of YMCAs and allow us to get back to work, and back to building healthy communities across New York State,” Stewart said.
“Our community is certainly ready for it,” Ihne said.