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18 Safety Considerations for Your Health Club Reopening Plan

Health clubs around the world are starting to think about when—and how—to safely reopen. Here are 18 safety considerations to incorporate into your planning.

Updated September 22, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues with effective treatment or a proven vaccine still months away, governments around the world have reopened in various stages. In some places, like New York and New Jersey in the U.S., initial reopening following prolonged closure is new. In other areas, such as Ireland, clubs have had to navigate threats of second closures as coronavirus cases spike. Other countries such as Sweden and Taiwan have kept clubs open throughout.

The reopening of fitness centers has included extensive social distancing and enhanced cleaning in the initial phase. International and national guidelines currently recommend people stay at least six feet—or roughly two meters—away from each other in public. Nevertheless, reopening businesses have and will continue to take it a step further. Clubs need to outline new and evolving cleaning protocols and ensure adequate staffing and supplies to execute these plans.

With any plan, it is essential that decisions regarding safety protocols are in compliance with the most up-to-date information from national, regional, state, and local authorities with regards to set phases and a timetable and any restrictions that must be put in place at any given time.

Here are questions to consider as you continue to navigate plans on how—and when—to implement, evaluate, and adapt safety protocols in your club. We've broken down the questions into four categories:

  1. Containment,
  2. Cleaning and Sanitation,
  3. Staffing, and
  4. Operations.
Reopening Considerations Containment Column Width

Health Club Reopening Plan: Containment

1. How will your club limit the number of people in the facility at one time to comply with social distancing requirements, and how will this be monitored and enforced?

According to Pure International Group CEO Colin Grant, when clubs in China first opened, members could reserve access to the club in 90-minute time blocks, and staff cleaned the club for an hour between these appointments. Staff will need to be factored into the number of people in the club at one time if your government has put limits in place.

Guidelines around capacity vary, with some requiring capacity limits (e.g. 25% or 50% of capacity) and others requiring a set amount of square footage (e.g. 200 square feet per participant in group exercise). It is important that your staff is aware of these requirements and trained to enforce them.

2. When will you reopen group or small group exercise with social distancing?

When you do open group exercise classes, how will you ensure classes are formatted to avoid sharing equipment and spaces? Social Distancing in Your Health Club provides more information on what a socially distanced group x class (among other offerings) looks like.

3. What will you do about your virtual offerings? Will you continue group classes virtually? What about personal training? How will reopening impact virtual offerings?

For example, some at-risk groups (older people, people with chronic disease) may not be able to return right away. Others may be eager to return but need or desire extra safety accommodations. For example, some clubs have explored offering special times slots—like “senior hours” at grocery stores—for these groups. Virtual offerings can also be a great benefit to these groups, and reopening planning could be a good time to consider how virtual services fit into your plans moving forward.

4. How will you enforce social distancing on cardio machines, in the free weight area, or other club locations such as locker rooms or pool areas?

Some clubs may place towels or signs over every other machine or—if it is safe to do so—strategically unplug or switch off machines or just move them off the floor. Social distancing may be more challenging in the free weight area or areas where movement is more fluid. Check out Photos Show How Some Clubs Are Encouraging Social Distancing for a few examples.

5. What changes to policies or procedures will you implement to prevent people from congregating in certain areas?

For example, will your usual setup for check-in bring people into close quarters, making safe social distancing impossible? Some reopening clubs have kept locker rooms closed, except for bathroom facilities, to maintain social distancing.

Reopening Considerations Cleaning Column Width

Health Club Reopening Plan: Cleaning & Sanitation

6. How often will staff clean machines and surfaces? How will you clean group X studios between classes, if you offer them? What cleaning products will they use for each?

An outline of cleaning protocols and a schedule will help you coordinate staffing and supply needs. Explore ihrsa.org for more resources, including helpful cleaning terms and strategies for implementing an extensive cleaning plan

7. Are there any hard-to-clean items you should remove from the floor?

Examples may include bands, hand weights, yoga blocks, mats and towels for stretching, and certain types of foam rollers.

8. Are there any additional cleaning procedures you will add, such as ultraviolet light or fog cleaning, or HVAC upgrades?

According to current evidence, COVID-19 can be aerosolized into smaller particles that stay in the air longer than typical respiratory droplets. Consider the role your HVAC system play in your COVID-19 safety strategy.

Consider also how this will impact supply and staffing needs. Start researching vendors early to ensure you have the supplies needed to implement your plan. IHRSA’s Club Business Exchange and Group Purchasing Program may be helpful resources. Additionally, consider whether employees can be present during certain procedures like fog cleaning, and if not, how will you time when they are done.

9. How will staff who are responsible for cleaning be protected from exposure?

For example, will they be provided or required to wear gloves or face coverings? In some areas, this is mandated by law; in other areas consumer preference defacto requires it. In China, club staff and members use masks. However, in many parts of the world masks are not accessible to consumers due to shortages of these items for healthcare workers.

10. Will you require members and staff who are not cleaning to wear protective clothing, such as a face cover?

The CDC recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Cloth face coverings can add a layer of protection, given that COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who are not showing any symptoms and don’t know they are infected. Evidence suggests masks and cloth face coverings are an effective way to protect against the spread of COVID-19, and are safe for most people during exercise. Learn more about the safety and efficacy of masks during exercise (including the best types of masks to choose), legal implications surrounding mask policy, and how clubs around the world are implementing mask and face covering policies.

11. How will you communicate and enforce good member cleaning practices?

For example, how will you ensure your members clean their equipment and space before and after use, wash hands regularly, and cover their cough? What can you put in place to make good cleaning and hygiene practices easy for them? This reopening FAQ outlines a few key cleaning questions members are sure to ask.

Reopening Considerations Staffing Column Width

Health Club Reopening Plan: Staffing

12. How many staff members do you need to carry out the different phases of reopening?

13. Which staff members will you bring back on board to fill these roles, and how will you communicate any changes to responsibilities or roles?

14. What will you do to ensure your practices protect returning staff from exposure to COVID-19? Will you test employees for COVID-19 before the return to work if testing is available? Will you do daily monitoring of employee health (e.g. temperature checks)?

Will you test employees for COVID-19 before they return to work if testing is available? Will you do daily monitoring of employee health (e.g. temperature checks)?

15. What additional training will employees need before the club reopens, or progresses to a new phase, in a post-COVID-19 environment

How will you provide training for employees, and how will you support them as they return to the job?

Reopening Considerations Operations Column Width

Health Club Reopening Plan: Operations

16. How will you time the reopening of different sections of your club? Will you reopen all at once, or in stages?

In China, clubs reopened the main facilities in phase one, according to Colin Grant, while locker rooms, showers, and pools remained closed. Some clubs have chosen to allow locker rooms to remain open for bathrooms, but not for changing. Consider which segments of your club you plan to open first, and outline a timeline for reopening subsequent segments.

Similarly, if your national, regional, or local authorities advise pulling back to an earlier phase to combat an outbreak of COVID-19, when and how will you adjust your services to protect members and comply with regulations?

17. Do you need to make any upgrades or changes to your current services to meet new needs that come with a limited reopen?

For example, if you decide that members need to book a time slot to visit the club, does your software currently support that?

18. Are there any services you have implemented during closure that you will continue after you reopen?

Consider whether these services will be accessible to the public, how they will be priced, and who they will align with existing services.

These 18 questions are just a sampling of the many topics on club operators' and owners' minds right now as they develop their reopening plans.

IHRSA will continue to collaborate with global health officials and government bodies to identify key considerations based on best available science. We will also collect best practices from clubs around the world and develop more resources on cleaning and sanitation and operations to support clubs as they plan to reopen.

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Author avatar

Alexandra Black Larcom @ihrsagetactive

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, is the Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy for IHRSA. She spends her days working on resources and projects that help IHRSA clubs offer effective health programs in their communities, and convincing lawmakers that policies promoting exercise are an excellent idea. Outside the office you'll most likely find Alex at the gym, running on the Charles River, or, in the fall, by a TV cheering on the Florida Gators.