TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that people who are healthier are less likely to die from the coronavirus, which is part of his rationale to include gyms as the state expands the first phase of its reopening.
Beginning Monday, the state will also increase restrictions on restaurant and retail store capacity from 25% to 50%, as well as allowing the reopening of museums, libraries and gyms at 50% capacity. Bars and movie theaters will remain closed.
"This is a respiratory virus that tends to attack people who have some health problems or who aren't in as good physical condition. So don't we want people to be getting exercise? Don't we want people to stay in shape? It is going to make them more resistant to severe consequences," DeSantis said at a news conference in Jacksonville.
DeSantis said he thinks gyms can be run without extreme risk of spreading the virus if the equipment is spaced properly and then sanitized after each use.
"That should be happening anyway -- if you are sweating on the dip bar, clean the dip bar after you are done doing dips," DeSantis said. He said he disagreed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's original recommendation to close gyms but went along with it.
The announcement was welcome news to Sally West of Tallahassee.
"I cannot wait to go to the gym," said West, 50, who was going to her gym at least five days a week before they were shut down. "The gym for me is not only about physical health, but it's about mental health, too. This has been a super stressful time, so I just think going back to the gym creates some mental release as well as helping get back into physical shape."
She said her gym is allowing people to come in only if they make an appointment to make sure it doesn't get overcrowded.
Die-hard spinners have been desperate to get back to CycleBar in Fort Lauderdale, where owner Barbara Fleming said customers are constantly inquiring about an opening date.
"They don't care if they have to wear a mask. They don't care if they can't come into the actual studio itself until five minutes before class -- they just want to get back into their fitness routine," said Fleming, who will reopen her studio on May 25 with the bikes spaced 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
Florida has had more than 43,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, resulting in 1,875 death, according to figures released by the state Department of Health on Friday.
Florida began the first phase of reopening the state to nonessential businesses on May 4. Although local governments can impose tighter restrictions, the governor has encouraged parks and beaches be reopened, saying the virus is less likely to spread outdoors and that people need exercise.
DeSantis, whose wife gave birth to their third child in March, hinted that he's also looking at ways to expand activities for children, such as summer camps. He said children are less at risk of having severe consequences from the virus.
"To deprive kids of having any type of activities over the summer, particularly young kids I think would be a big mistake, so we're going to work on that. It's something that's very high on my agenda," DeSantis said. "I'm also just, as a parent of three young kids, very comforted by the data that I've seen throughout this whole thing that shows that this is very low risk for young kids."
AP writers Terry Spencer and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this story.