Fitness in the age of COVID-19

Indoor facilities require masks and stringent sanitation measures.

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Gyms and fitness centers, which are allowed under the state’s phase three reopening plans, are looking at ways to reintroduce their in-person programming and facilities.

Included in phase three are movie theaters and performance venues working outdoors, museums and cultural and historical sites, gyms and health clubs, some indoor recreational activities that don’t have much potential for high contact, like casino gaming floors, and professional sports without spectators.

In order to ensure the safety of guests at gyms and fitness centers, customers are being required to wear masks when indoors, and certain protocols are being implemented to minimize the possibility of spreading illness.

Owner of Airport Fitness, Connie McHugh, said working out at the fitness center currently works like reserving a table at a restaurant, although the gym does take walk-ins, if there’s enough space.

Members are encouraged to pre-register online to secure a timeslot.

There are 17 spots available for members in the club for each hour-long workout session. 

McHugh said Airport Fitness is lucky enough to have plenty of space to keep guests separate, often in their own rooms or workout spaces. With nine fitness rooms, McHugh said it is relatively easy for Airport Fitness to keep the required 10 feet of distance between guests. 

Masks will be required at all times in the building. The only exception will be activities on the tennis court.

Members are encouraged to bring their own workout towel, water bottle, yoga mat, and sterile gloves. Each day, the facility will be closed between 1 pm and 3 pm, and the entire building will be thoroughly disinfected with an electrostatic spray. That procedure is also done each evening after the gym closes.

Spa facilities like the steam room, sauna, and showers will be closed for the time being. The fitness club offers senior fitness time from 3 to 4 pm, in order to allow elderly and immunocompromised individuals to exercise safely away from others. Tennis lessons and other fitness classes are also available for those who pre-register online.

McHugh said a lot of the rooms at Airport Fitness have been repurposed to allow for proper distancing, and a smooth flow through the facility that doesn’t require people to double back or be in too many different places.

“This is normally a large classroom, but now it serves as a workout space. We are teaching some classes in-person on the tennis courts, and simultaneously live streaming them online,” McHugh said. Inside Airport Fitness, folks could be seen in their own corners, and often their own rooms, wearing masks as they get their sweat on.

For McHugh, these first few weeks will be a “trial run” to see just how many people will come to the gym, and how many people can be safely accommodated. “We weren’t sure if two or 22 or 222 people were going to come,” McHugh said. “It seems like we are seeing a combination of brand new people to our facility, and people who can’t go to their original gym but still want to work out.”

According to McHugh, Airport Fitness is unique because guests can have their own space to use, and there is plenty of space so that people are not forced to pass close by each other when moving around the building.

And some unique sanitation procedures have been adopted by guests and staff, like providing a reusable bottle of disinfectant and hand sanitizer to gym members upon entry, then washing the bottle after use.

“We are just really excited to be back up and running, and we will see where we go in the next few weeks, this is all very new to us,” McHugh said. “I’m glad we can provide a safe environment for people who want to get back to the gym.”

Other fitness centers, like Crossfit MV, will continue to operate outdoors, with group sessions and classes available. Crossfit has a portable handwashing station set up outside, as well as hand sanitizer at each individual workout station. All members are required to either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer upon arriving. Crossfitters must wear a mask whenever the mandatory six-foot distance cannot be kept. All are also required to have a mask “at the ready” (either around their neck, in their pocket, or on their mat) to be ready to use whenever social distancing isn’t possible. Each workout station will have its own basket of CDC-approved cleaning products so that members can sanitize their designated space before and after use.

The Mansion House Health Club is delaying its opening as they begin to implement changes that will meet the health and safety guidelines issued by the state.

Weights, machines, treadmills, bikes, and other equipment must be spaced at least 14 feet apart, unless physical barriers are placed in between, in which case they must still be six feet apart. Equipment must be sanitized between each use, and everyone inside the club must wear a face covering. Additionally, the guidelines instruct gyms to limit circuit training and encourage members to use just one piece of equipment at a time, as opposed to alternating between several machines or areas.

According to a letter issued by the Mansion House to members, the health club will look at hiring additional staff, and will review the layout of the facility to see what needs to be moved, and what new equipment needs to be bought. 

“We can’t wave a magic wand. We have to do it right and that will take several weeks. We are so thankful that our members appreciate that you can’t just increase a room size overnight, or conjure up staff. As a year-round family-owned health club, the well-being of our friends and neighbors comes first,” the letter states.

In a letter from the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard to members, membership coordinator Lindsay Webster writes that as a multi-use facility, the Y will be taking a phased approach to reopening, with one-on-one lifeguard trainings kicking off the reopening, and the fitness center being the last facility to reopen on a date to be determined.

“The current guidance restricts us from having certain programs and services operating simultaneously, so in alliance with our mission we’ve made the decision to phase our opening with social responsibility at the forefront,” Webster wrote.