Boulder fitness business owners are asking for a little bit more flexibility and trust from the government to reopen safely as the coronavirus lingers locally and other sectors of the economy begin operating at a slower-than-normal pace.
With gyms largely unable to open due to public health orders, except for personal training sessions of four or fewer people, with no more than 10 people together indoors, fitness industry leaders feel they can do more at this stage of the pandemic.
“We need to be trusted to care for human beings, and that’s what we’ve done our whole lives. The human beings will choose when to come back to our businesses,” said Erin Carson, co-owner and operator of the RallySport Health and Fitness facility in Boulder. “In 800 square feet, I feel like I can comfortably fit four people. I have 10 different rooms that are 800 square feet. I’m lucky about that. The guidelines are so strange right now. We can have 10 in the building, that’s ridiculous. That’s one person per room.”
Business leaders are not asking to cram their facilities full of people, but rather to allow for a reopening approach that lets their spaces to be used safely, by a number of people that can maintain social distancing while working out or in a class.
Boulder County Public Health sent a letter to RallySport and the Boulder Elks Lodge this month instructing both to shut down their respective pools, which disappointed Carson. At RallySport, she said the chlorinated outdoor pool was limited to use by appointment only, to one swimmer per lane.
Neither Gov. Jared Polis nor the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have provided local authorities guidance on health clubs and fitness facilities.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have information about why those businesses are not permitted to be open quite yet,” Boulder County Public Health spokesperson Chana Goussetis said. “It is true that we sent letters to RallySport and the Elks Lodge this month instructing them to close their pool facilities. This is because there was a change in interpretation of the statewide public health order making pools not permitted to be open.”
Sometime this week, the local public health agency expects the state to release new guidance for pools.
“We do not yet have an update on the timing of any proposed changes to guidance related to gyms, however,” Goussetis said.
In the case of the Boulder Elks pool, it was shut down twice. It reopened after the state’s stay-at-home ended with the option for swimmers who bought a package of swims at boulderelkspoolandpatio.com to make a reservation for a lane, and received 500 bookings in 24 hours. It closed after one day, when the stay-at-home phase was extended to May 8 in Boulder County, and then reopened again on May 9, attracting 900 reservations in a matter of hours, and stayed open for several days until the latest safer-at-home guidance for pools was read to mean the Boulder Elks facility could not operate, despite its rules that limited the pool for lap swimming only among a small number of swimmers simultaneously.
“We thought that (reservation number) was impressive. We did no marketing, no social media. No one knew about it except one swimmer. I told one guy who’s connected in the Boulder swimming community we were going to open,” Rob Reynard, pool manager for Boulder Elks, said. “We look forward to reopening in whatever capacity is legal, safe and economically viable to serve this overwhelming demand of the Boulder swim community.”
While outdoor activity has also drawn some concerning attention to parks and open space, where maintaining 6 feet from a passerby on narrow trails has been difficult for many and where youth illicitly gathered in droves along Boulder Creek last week, fitness instructors in the city insist they can currently have more clients and exercisers at their indoor facilities than they are presently permitted, and keep them adequately spaced, and their equipment properly sanitized.
Instead of allowing one blanket number to determine occupancy for all fitness-related businesses, they say, determine a percentage of building occupancy allowed to be used, meaning a facility normally licensed to hold a maximum of 100 would only permit 50 people to enter at once, if the government determined half the standard cap would accommodate social distancing in most structures.
“What they’re doing right now is destroying businesses, and it’s painful. Now it feels political, and like control and like they don’t trust us,” Carson said, adding that she was OK with closing down when the pandemic first erupted to hold down the curve of cases.
A lower percentage than half-capacity could work for an initial reopening, too, she said. That has been the protocol in some states that have allowed some gym activity to resume.
“Saying four people for a 1,000-square-foot space, which is what I have, not very big. But we could get up to eight people comfortably,” said Abel Villacorta, dojo director and lead instructor at the Boulder Ki Aikido martial art outfit.
Allowing that could have an uplifting effect on community morale, too, he feels.
“That would be a comfortable group, where we can learn from and connect with each other. Some businesses, a certain level of interpersonal relationship is why some people are choosing us over other things. Zoom classes, though they have saved us from having nothing, they have not allowed us to connect with each other and feel like we’re in it together and it’s going to be alright,” Villacorta said. “The separation has definitely hurt a lot of the spirit of our community.”
There is something to the belief that recreational opportunities help residents feel attached to their cities, according to a study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and conducted by the Urban Institute released this week, that featured surveys of Boulder residents among those of 26 other metro areas and a national sample. The survey was held prior to the coronavirus outbreak taking hold of the country, and the foundation framed it as a blueprint to understanding what matters most to residents as public officials navigate a way forward post-pandemic.
It found 97% of Boulder residents surveyed felt there were accessible recreation areas, a higher clip than the 85% of residents nationally (only 14% of Boulder respondents found affordable housing accessible, while 74% found job opportunities accessible, respectively compared to 50% and 63% nationally).
“People who report easy access to recreational areas and safe places to work and play report stronger sentiments of attachment across the board: they are more satisfied with their metro area, identify more with the local culture and lifestyle, and show a stronger preference for staying,” the Knight study stated.
Before the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness hit Colorado, there were between 700 and 1,000 health clubs in the state, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association industry group. Assuming any reopening plan will have gyms operating a reduced capacity from normal at least to start, with states that have given gyms the green light limiting them to 50% or less on average, that may not be a sustainable plan for long, according to the group.
During the height of forced closures when just about every state had mandated gyms shutter, the U.S. industry was losing an estimated $700 million every week, and a total of $3.5 billion through May 1, according to the group, which is emphasizing the vitality of physical activity in its advocacy for a reopening as soon as practical.
“Since social distancing restrictions will limit a club’s income to 50% or less, clubs are going to have to get incredibly creative to survive. It’s heartening to see that in the states where gyms are allowed to open, the members are excited to be back, membership sales are being made and workouts are happening,” Meredith Poppler, vice president of communications for the industry group, said.
She added: “It will be a long time before everyone will be comfortable coming back, but I think those that do visit their gyms will be impressed at how immaculate they are, and how creative their gyms are in making things work at only 50% capacity. It’s a long road, but club owners are tough, so we have faith that they will survive.”
— to www.dailycamera.com