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Coronavirus news and updates about the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

BizWorthy: Is 30% Capacity Enough For Gyms To Stay In Business?

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More businesses can partially reopen in North Carolina beginning Friday when the state enters Phase 2.5 of reopening. Those businesses include gyms and fitness centers, which can reopen at 30% capacity. Some gyms, though, have already reopened in defiance of Gov. Roy Cooper's order closing them in the spring. And others were planning to reopen even before Cooper made the announcement this week about the move to Phase 2.5.

For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment, BizWorthy.

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Marshall Terry: Tony, does this change anything for those gyms that have already reopened or were planning to do so?

Tony Mecia: Before this, there were some gyms that had opened that found a little bit of a loophole that allowed them to train people whose doctor said that it was "medically necessary" for them to get exercise. But I think what this really does, it does a couple of things.

First of all, it allows all the gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios and the like to open, and to open legally and to have some guidelines. The other piece of it is I think it encourages people maybe, a little bit, to go to gyms. In the sense that the government is now saying it thinks that it is safe, or at least it's not so dangerous that they all have to be closed the entire time. So I think that helps build some confidence toward people going back to gyms, like with restaurants, like you've seen with some of these other businesses. It sort of moves it on that path toward getting back to normal.

Terry: Why are gyms only being allowed to reopen at 30% capacity when other businesses like restaurants can open at 50%?

Mecia: Mandy Cohen, the state's top health official, was asked that at the news conference this week, and she explained that it has to do with the fact that when you're in a gym and you're in a fitness studio, that you're typically breathing heavily, you're expelling more of these respiratory droplets that they believe helped spread COVID. And so unlike at a restaurant where you're mostly just sitting there, if you're in a gym, you're moving around. And you're inhaling, exhaling a lot more. So they thought it was prudent to keep people a little bit more separated, not have as many big groups of people. That was really the thinking there, Marshall.

Terry: But is it enough for gyms to stay afloat, only being at 30% capacity?

Mecia: Well, that's a good question. I mean, I think from the perspective of gym owners, 30% is better than 0%. But, you know, I think a lot of them are happy that the government is saying, 'OK, look, it's OK for you to open.' I think they've been really been hurting for a long time, a lot of them with almost no revenue or having to move classes outside or go virtual. Those don't really pay the bills as well. This will help. But, on a long-term basis, I don't think that they're going to want to stay at this level. It's just really hard to pay the bills when you're so limited on capacity.

Terry: You report this week that working women have been hit with a double whammy during the pandemic. How so?

Mecia: Unlike previous downturns, Marshall, that have really hit sectors that are mostly dominated by men -- you know, construction, manufacturing -- this one that really is tending to fall more on industries where there is a high percentage of women in the workforce. Retail, hospitality, health care, education. Initially, in March and April, the majority of the job losses in Mecklenburg County and in the state were women putting in unemployment claims. So you had that dynamic.

And then the second part is now with schools closed and children doing virtual learning, you're having a lot of mothers who are having to shoulder a lot of the burden of childcare and housework while trying to work. Studies have shown, and I think anecdotally we probably know it to be true, that it's mostly women who are taking care of those tasks in a household.

And so it's two different things going on where you have the job losses and then you have the increasing responsibilities at home. It's really putting a strain on a lot of working women.

Terry: Delta, United and Charlotte's largest carrier, American Airlines, all announced this week they're dropping their $200 charge for changing tickets. Now, you report this might not be the win for passengers that it appears to be. Why is that?

Mecia: Well, it sounds like good news, Marshall, the fact that the major airlines are saying they're getting rid of change fees, which they've charged for years and years. Anytime you want to change your ticket, well, guess what? It's a couple hundred dollars if you want to do that. And that's been a pretty good source of revenue for airlines over the years.

They came out this week and said they're going to stop doing that. The asterisk on it, though, Marshall, is that the changes do not apply to basic economy fares, which are the lowest fares. So I think what you're going to see, Marshall, is an expansion of those fares and a greater dividing line between the basic economy fares and the main cabin fares. And so they're going to, I think, try to push you toward those more expensive main cabin fares and say, "Oh, well, you know, if you want to sit in an aisle seat, well, maybe maybe you shouldn't get the least-expensive ticket." It's worth reading some of the details here, Marshall.

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Terry: Finally, Tony, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a shortage of toilet paper and now you report there's a shortage of crickets? What's going on there?

Mecia: Yeah. Marshall, you know, since the start of the pandemic, we've seen supply chains in a lot of different areas just be turned upside down. One of the ones that we found with The Ledger this week is crickets. If you go to PetSmart or Petco, one of the big national chains, you'll find they're running short on crickets, which are used to feed lizards, geckos, iguanas. And it has to do with the fact that more people are getting pets during the pandemic. And so our Cristina Bolling talked to a bunch of people this week and just looked at this cricket shortage and what it's doing. The cricket suppliers and the pet store companies recommend you can substitute with mealworms and other types of small worms, Marshall.

Terry: All right, Tony, let's leave it there for this week. Thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall. 

Terry: That's Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

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