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Businesses Begin Slow Process of Reopening


White lines now block off socially distant personal workout space inside Legion Transformation Center in Middletown where coaches have eagerly awaited news of Delaware’s plan to reopen businesses. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the gym’s physical closure along with businesses throughout the state when Governor John Carney announced a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order back in March.

In spite of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, coaches and General Manager Frank Purfield remained dedicated to their motivated members who did not want to lose out on the workouts they have come to love. They created online content to stay engaged with their membership, not knowing where the future might lead the business.

“We have a lot of content online for our members to continue to use. I think we had about 20 percent of our members at Middletown put their accounts on hold [during the pandemic], so obviously that hurt us a little bit. But we had a lot of people who, once they realized we had online stuff, pulled their account out of a frozen status. Right now, we have quite a few members that work out at home for now until they are more comfortable,” Purfield said.

The gym, like other exercise facilities, reopened in early June at 30% of its fire code occupancy rate per phase one of Delaware’s Economic Reopening Plan released by Gov. Carney. Phase one also eliminated the out-of-state quarantine and concerns with short-term rentals.

This week, he released phase two set to begin Monday, June 15, emphasizing that the public must remain cautious moving forward through the reopening process.

“As businesses reopen and more Delawareans head back to work, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is still active in Delaware,” said Governor Carney. “Delawareans need to remain vigilant. Keep distance from others outside your household. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Wear a face covering in public settings, and act with a sense of community. This pandemic is not over. Now’s not the time to let up.”

For Purfield and businesses like Legion Transformation Center, the extra sanitization now required of businesses adds a lot of extra work each day, but he says it’s worth it to keep their clients safe, healthy and comfortable.

“In the gym, there are eight-foot boxes, eight by eight feet, and in between the boxes is an extra two feet, so people are more than the CDC’s recommended distance. After every class, we vacuum, sanitize the dumbbells, clean all the floors…,” he explained.

They also now have a bathroom for members and another for staff. Anyone entering or leaving the business must wear masks per the Governor’s orders, but members working out may remove their masks once they are in their workout squares. They cannot leave their squares without wearing their mask. Temperatures are also taken as members come into the building and their feet sprayed with a disinfecting spray, among other safety measures.

“It is a lot, but we want to make sure we’re going above and beyond what the CDC says,” he explained. “Normally, before, we had classes of about 40 people. We would like to get back to that eventually. Bigger classes means more energy and more fun.”

To help businesses reopen to the public, Delaware’s Division of Small Business has worked to issue reopening kits for small businesses which have been distributed to downtown and commerce organizations and state legislators, according to the state. These kits include hand sanitizer, surface cleaner and face coverings for employees.

Personal care services will begin reopening to the public, not just to essential employees, as of June 8 as a part of a rolling reopening plan with the state, the Governor said in his press conference.

“Here’s the information you can probably figure out. I need a haircut and nobody’s going to be happier than I am to be able to get back to the woman who cuts my hair and I’ll be able to do that effective June the 8th as we reopen personal care services: hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, etc.,” he joked

Phase two of Delaware’s Economic Reopening Plan will then begin Monday, June 15. The gym, like other exercise facilities and personal care services, will remain at 30% of its occupancy rates. Other businesses, like restaurants, salons, retail stores and casinos, will be able to increase their capacity to 60% of its stated fire occupancy as of this date, according to the state.

During phase two, water parks, playgrounds, indoor play areas and sporting facilities and venues will remain closed to the public. Childcare facilities will reopen to all of Delaware families, not just those with essential employees, but must adhere to smaller classroom sizes. Community pools will also be allowed to reopen in phase two, as will summer camps, some youth sports and some instruction methods, all with strict guidelines depending on the industry.

Additionally, indoor gatherings will be limited to 50 individuals per occasion.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Gov. Carney said. “What I’ve seen on the ground has been by and large very positive. We are asking business owners and Delawareans to follow the guidelines, particularly around face coverings when you’re in public or in a retail establishment, and to workers and businesses doing the same. If we do that, we will be able to control the virus from spreading, from creating outbreaks in different places around our state.”

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