Gyms and fitness centers have faced special challenges in reopening to their members in Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan.

For Riverside Health Club in Mount Vernon, which reopened June 8 after being shut down for nearly three months, the changes were sweeping simply to open the doors.

It was the same for Urban Fitness and Health and the Skagit Valley Family YMCA, both in Mount Vernon.

While some fitness centers in Skagit County have chosen to open in Phase 2, others have remained closed.

“As a medical fitness center, safety is always our No. 1 priority,” said Urban Fitness and Health owner Don Labourr. “We have adopted all the state and county new safety guidelines.”

Riverside Health Club’s 26,000-square-foot facility can technically open at 30% capacity.

But with rooms of various sizes, it isn’t as simple as letting a set number of people in at once. Rooms have to be monitored, time in swim lanes has to be reserved and the whole facility has to be cleared out for several hours midday for a cleaning before reopening for evening hours.

Riverside Health Club co-owner Denise Skelton says it’s all about safety, and she’s sure that anyone who enters her facility will feel far safer than they would shopping at a local grocery or big-box store.

“Safety really is important to us. We took it seriously,” she said.

The YMCA opened June 17. It has a tent outside where members sign in, have their temperatures checked and answer COVID-19 screening questions. Before leaving, all members must sign out.

Those who reserve a lane in the pool must follow all screening procedures in the tent before proceeding to an entrance leading directly to the pool deck. Closed locker rooms mean swimmers must be dressed to swim upon arrival.

YMCA Safety Coordinator/Aquatics Director Justin Davies has been busy.

“It took a ton of collaboration and a lot of time to get this all done,” Davies said. “There were a lot of Zoom meetings and a lot of planning. A lot of following state guidelines and checking websites.”

Among the changes for health clubs are that classes with instructors can have only five participants.

“We have like a checkerboard pattern,” Davies said of how participants for fitness classes are organized. “We also are doing one-on-one personal training and we have nine lanes available for lap swimming, one person per lane. Locker rooms, we don’t see them opening for awhile. It’s the one place where we really don’t have control over social distancing.”

Members and staffers at Riverside carry sanitizer and microfiber cloths to clean machines before and after each use.

In addition, at both the Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley facilities, the buildings are closed midday for a deep clean, then cleaned again after closing for the day. Layouts were changed at both locations to ensure social distancing.

For the Mount Vernon location, that means markers on the floor to show 6-foot spacing plus one-way directional signs in hallways and stairwells. It also means everyone enters through one door and exits through another.

At Urban Fitness and Health, medical grade disinfectant is applied after use of any equipment. The entire facility also shuts down in the afternoon for disinfecting.

“We require 6 feet of social distancing and our employees wear masks. We have staff on the floor ensuring that all new procedures are being followed,” Labourr said. “We have touchless access into our club, an app to register and sign in for classes and we screen all members upon entrance. Our medical staff and physical therapists are here to make sure that people get back into exercising safely.”

At Riverside, members are asked questions about their health before they enter, and employees’ temperatures are checked. Employees wear face coverings, and members are asked to do so as well, Skelton said.

The entire gym was rearranged so no one feels trapped near someone else.

In addition to the Riverside locker rooms being closed, there are no drinking fountains, no kids’ club and no towels issued. Restrooms are monitored so they can be cleaned after use.

At the YMCA, everyone must maintain 6 feet of social distancing, abide by one-way traffic designations and wear masks. However, members are allowed to remove their masks once they have reached their workout area.

There are parts of Riverside’s Mount Vernon facility that can’t reopen yet, such as the racquetball courts, Skelton said. And the classes that are now limited to five people used to have 20.

But members are happy for what they have.

“Everybody’s actually been very great about it,” Skelton said. “The members who are coming in are so grateful that we’re open ... I’ve found them to be courteous, kind, grateful and very supportive.”

Skelton has worked closely with officials from Skagit County Public Health to follow all safety guidelines, and she said her contact there has worked hard to be as helpful as possible.

“But it’s not so clear cut,” Skelton said. “The governor’s guidelines are not clear, and they change fairly regularly.”

As a result, she’s found some parts frustrating, especially knowing some larger businesses allow people to wander about freely through narrow aisles.

“You will feel more safe here than any box store in town,” she said.

But the inequity is troublesome.

“It doesn’t make sense to me why so many large businesses got to be open when small business is suffering and is more heavily regulated,” she said.

And that hurts, particularly for a business that relies on its members using its building.

“We’re a volume business, so we need more people coming in and using the facility,” she said.

Labourr said his club is also working closely with Skagit County Public Health staff to properly interpret the guidelines and safely operate.

Still, figuring out what is required hasn’t always been easy.

“Learning how to plan and adjust to the ever-changing guidance has been difficult,” Labourr said.

A move into Phase 3 brings uncertainty. For one, it’s unclear what will change, and the timing is far from certain, making it hard to plan, Skelton said.

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