After more than two months, many local gyms reopened this week with safety precautions in place.
The largest of those is the YMCA of the Chippewa Valley, which instituted a phased reopening over the course of three days this week. The John and Fay Menard YMCA Tennis Center opened Monday, the Chippewa Falls YMCA did on Tuesday and the Eau Claire YMCA opens its doors today. The L.E. Phillips YMCA Indoor Sports Center offers emergency child care service but remains closed to everything else.
A ruling last week by the Wisconsin Supreme Court eliminated Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order. For gyms, that decision expedited their reopening plans. An Eau Claire County order allows businesses and facilities to operate if they meet public health standards. Gyms must implement many health precautions, including physical distancing, face masks for employees, hand washing and frequent sanitizing and cleaning of equipment and surfaces.
According to Theresa Hillis, CEO at YMCA of the Chippewa Valley, the entity had discussions with the YMCA of the USA, Eau Claire City-County Health Department, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding to partially reopen.
“We think it’s time, and we think we’re able to come out and say we’re doing it safely now,” Hillis said.
In Phase 1 of its reopening, the YMCA instituted reduced hours, capacity restriction, physical distancing guidelines, among other health precautions. Facilities are open only to members age 12 and older. Showers, saunas and steam rooms are closed. Only personal, rented lockers will be available.
All employees will wear masks covering their faces, and members must do the same when entering, exiting and in public areas. The main cause for concern involves a member or employee testing positive for COVID-19 after being in a facility. If that happens, Hillis said the building will close for at least 24 hours, receive a thorough cleaning and then reopen.
Cardio rooms and weight rooms are open on a first-come, first-served basis and have limitations based on available footage. Only one person or family is allowed to shoot at a basketball hoop. People should wash their hands when they arrive and leave facilities and frequently use hand sanitizer stations. Pickleball, racquetball and pickup basketball are not available, nor are cycling classes, group exercise classes or personal training. Phase 2, whenever that happens, will involve more in-person group programs like swim lessons.
Other measures include a staff screening, and employees with flu-like symptoms will be sent home. Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas and surfaces like door handles and bathroom sinks will take place.
Pools are scheduled to open June 1 on a limited basis. Vending machines and drinking fountains (besides water bottle refills) are closed, and coffee will not be served. Buildings will have one entrance and one exit to have one-way movement and minimize close personal contact.
“The Y is not going to look like it did when we closed,” Hillis said. “It’s going to take time to bring things back.”
At the YMCA Tennis Center, people should use every other court to maintain separation; only play tennis with people with whom they have been quarantined; play with a limited number of marked tennis balls; and wash hands and clean rackets before and after playing.
The YMCA recently decided to close Camp Manitou for the summer, a “heartbreaking” choice, Hillis said.
The camp is located in New Auburn, and Hillis said the YMCA couldn’t guarantee campers’ safety this year. Proper precautions could not be ensured at Camp Manitou, but the YMCA feels it can enact safety precautions at local facilities.
“We’re trying to navigate what safety is, to the best of our ability,” Hillis said. “When we looked at (Camp) Manitou, we didn’t open because we could not manage the safety aspect. But when we looked at the facilities and what we’re doing with the soft open, we do think we’ve managed the safety aspect.”
The main challenge is how to adapt to constant uncertainty and frequent changes. Hillis said some workers are not personally comfortable returning to work yet. Many members are hesitant as well, and Hillis understands that initial caution.
For the most part, members have shown patience and support while waiting for the facility to reopen.
“We’re navigating so much uncertainty, and we’re trying the best that we possibly can,” Hillis said.
Some smaller gyms reopen
Significant adjustments have occurred since business shut down in March. Some facilities, like Planet Fitness, remain closed to the public, while Gold’s Gym opened Monday.
Momentum Fitness, 2615 London Road, Suite B, reopened Tuesday with regular hours and a limited number of people allowed inside the building.
Jim Breuer, co-owner and coach, said classes are spread out over a full day, and additional measures include increased sanitation and cleaning on equipment. Breuer hopes people are more willing to emphasize physical fitness and be less susceptible to illness.
FitELITE opened Wednesday with “drastic changes to how we run things,” according to co-owner Dave Hildebrandt.
Hildebrandt said the cleaning budget has about doubled for the gym at 3420 Mall Drive, Suite 7. It will return to regular hours and have an abundance of hand sanitizer, hand wipes and cleaning solutions. Equipment will be disinfected by members and employees after each use.
Members must now bring their own shower towels and will check in through their phone to eliminate direct contact. Maximum capacity for classes was more than halved; before coronavirus, 30 to 35 people could receive instruction at once, but that number will now be 12 to 15.
Hildebrandt knows some members will hesitate to return while others will go back right away. He said the goal is to make the place feel clean yet fun and productive.
Businesses are gradually reopening and, with an abundance of caution, gyms will navigate challenges and try to safely serve members.