Mesa County gyms have reopened thanks to a variance from the state

While Front Range workout warriors watch their limbs wither and wait impatiently for gyms to reopen, Mesa County gyms are back in business thanks to a variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Members must wear masks while they are in the facility and occupancy is limited to maintain physical distancing.

“The first day, we only had two people who were kind of hesitant about the masks, but once we explained everything, they were OK with it,” said Sabrina Suazo, operations director at Crossroads Fitness in Grand Junction, which reopened May 6. “Everyone else since then has been so grateful that we’re open. They’re like, ‘Thank you so much, I missed this place.’ They’re really, truly happy to be there.”

Cole Christensen, the owner at Mesa Fitness in Grand Junction, said attendance in his gym is about 30% of normal, which actually is convenient because the variance stipulates that clubs can only operate at 30% of their maximum occupancy as determined by the fire department. His club reopened May 4.

Mesa county’s variance

“For fitness centers operating at thirty percent (30%) of fire code capacity, ill employees must be excluded from the center and required to remain in isolation for 7-10 days. Customers must be asked whether they have COVID-19 symptoms at the door and excluded from the fitness center if symptomatic. Customers should be encouraged to wear a face covering both when entering the facility and while in the facility, unless a face covering inhibits the participants ability to participate in the fitness activity. Given the many unknowns regarding how the SARS CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 is spread, use of equipment in the fitness center must be limited to no closer than every other machine so that participants are not exercising right next to each other and smaller exercise rooms with poor ventilation should be discouraged from use. Finally, employees must clean and disinfect shared equipment between customer uses.”

“The members couldn’t be happier,” Christensen said. “They’re walking through with big, bright smiles. Everyone is happy to be back in the gym.”

Mesa is the only Colorado county that has received a variance for gyms from the state because it has a relatively low incidence of the coronavirus. According to terms of the variance, no group exercises are allowed. Pool areas and locker rooms must remain closed.

At Crossroads Fitness, that leaves the weight room, cardio room and stretching room. The variance requires six-foot physical distancing, but Crossroads decided to make it 10 feet out of extra caution. Members have their temperatures taken by front desk staff before they are allowed to work out, another precaution the club is not required to take.

“We chose to do that because we know there are two symptoms that you need to look for, the fever and the dry cough,” Suazo said. (The CDC has recently updated its guidelines with other symptoms such as chills.) “Knowing that fever is one of the things we can check, just to make sure we’re keeping our employees and our members safe, we decided that was going to be non-negotiable.”

Masks are required at all times. Check-in is done touch-free by scanning membership cards. Members are asked to wipe down equipment with disinfectant before and after using it. Staff members conduct thorough cleanings hourly, Suazo said, while other cleaners come to the club throughout the day for extra cleaning. The club is closing earlier than normal so cleaning staff can completely disinfect the club after hours.

At Mesa Fitness, employees who cannot work at their normal tasks, such as conducting group exercise classes, remain employed and spend their entire workday cleaning.

“There is not one second of the day when there is not a staff member of mine cleaning,” Christensen said. “We also prop open all doors, so we’ve eliminated all touch points,” Christensen said. “We’ve added hand sanitizer stations throughout the facility and increased cleaning products. We mandate that they wear masks at all times, and we hold very strict accountability to our members wiping down their equipment after every use.

“That’s typically a policy that all gyms have that doesn’t always get executed. We’re taking it very seriously. If we see somebody not wipe down their equipment, we coach them up on it. We can clean all we want, but as soon as a member touches it, it needs to be cleaned again.”

Christensen praised Gov. Jared Polis and the CDPHE for allowing Mesa County gyms to reopen.

“Gyms get kind of lumped into the entertainment world — bars, restaurants, movie theaters and so on,” Christensen said. “If you think about it, the people who are most at risk are people with underlying health conditions. I’ve never looked at the fitness industry as part of the problem, but as part of the solution. It’s really nice to be open, to get people healthy and working out, and help to combat COVID-19.”

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