What Safety Procedures Are Health Clubs Using to Reopen?

To ensure the safety of members and employees during reopening, health clubs are implementing new procedures to monitor for illness, create space for social distancing, clean, and communicate with members.

As the economy begins to reopen in various areas around the world, local, state, and national governments may provide detailed, and lengthy, guidelines to follow for safe reopening. Health clubs should develop safe reopening plans that incorporate government requirements with a detailed strategy to keep club staff and members safe, specific to the needs and capabilities of their businesses.

To aid in this, IHRSA has developed a four-pronged framework for reopening clubs to use as a reference for state and national government bodies. The framework was developed to mitigate risk and enable health and fitness clubs to reopen, provide a safe and supportive place for physical activity, and pursue mental health and physical well-being through four key initiatives.

“With any plan, it is essential that the decision to reopen complies with the most up-to-date information from national, regional, state, and local authorities with regards to a reopening timetable and any restrictions you must put in place upon reopening,” says Alexandra Black Larcom, IHRSA’s senior manager of health promotion & health policy. (For more on the specifics of the framework, read "The Four-pronged Framework to Health Club Reopening."

To give you a clearer idea of how clubs are tackling this issue, we’ve put together examples showing how some IHRSA member clubs have started implementing new procedures.

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Monitoring Members & Staff with Visible Symptoms

Monitoring members and staff showing visible symptoms of the coronavirus is a top priority for reopening clubs. Each of the clubs’ procedures we examined outlined how they planned to screen anyone coming into their facility.

Sports Academy & Racquet Club in Logan, UT, has posted an online memo providing guidance to members and staff. It states: “Any staff or club member with any symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever, chills, or sneezing with nasal discharge should not come to the club. Anyone exhibiting these symptoms will be asked to leave immediately.”

Little Rock Athletic Club in Arkansas has put together a guide, which includes required member screening every time someone enters the club. If you someone answers “yes” to any of the following questions, they will not be allowed to enter:

  • Have you returned from out-of-state travel within the last 14 days?
  • Have you had a fever of 100.4°F or greater in the last 2 days?
  • Do you have a cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms typical of COVID-19?
  • Have you had contact with a person known to be infected with COVID-19 within the previous 14 days?

The reopening plan created by Basic-Fit International, an 828-club “value-for-money” fitness company in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Spain, outlines that “anyone who coughs or sneezes must stay at home.”. The same rule also applies to employees in the club.

Similarly, a plan put together by Stone Creek Athletic Club & Spa, Franco’s Health Club, Cross Gates Family Fitness, and Pelican Athletic Club and approved by officials in Louisiana, says clubs plan to post signage asking members to avoid entering the club if they have a fever or any other signs of illness. Employees will be screened and denied entry if they have a fever over 100.3° Fahrenheit.

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Creating Distance with Capacity Limits, Equipment Spacing

Largely, clubs are adhering to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations regarding social distancing. The WHO advises keeping at least 1-meter distance from others, while the CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet from other people. Other government guidelines may have different recommendations and clubs can make the decision to increase distance.

Sports Academy & Racquet Club has decided to increase the distance between anyone in their club.

“Members must keep 10 feet in between each other,” they state in their reopening protocols. “We will still restrict usage per room using colored lanyards that can be picked up at the front desk when checking in.”

Basic-Fit is also erring on the side of caution by limiting capacity and removing some cardio machines to create more room for social distancing.

“A distance of at least 1.5 meters significantly reduces the risk of contamination,” they explain in their reopening plan. “Fitness clubs can create enough space in the club for this by taking 1 out of 2 cardio equipment out of use. In addition, clubs can limit capacity to a certain maximum number of visitors. This is checked by the employees onsite, by the member management system and by a smart camera system for those clubs that have it.”

“Monitoring members and staff showing visible symptoms of the coronavirus is a top priority for reopening clubs.”

At Little Rock Athletic Club, employees will monitor weight floors and other high traffic areas for proper spacing, with a general guideline of 150 square feet per person or working in a 12x12 foot space. They will indicate proper spacing in classes with floor markings or equipment.

The reopening plan for Louisiana explains how it will limit capacity as well. It states that the facility capacity will be reduced either based on square footage (one individual per 113 square feet) or 25% of the fire marshal’s capacity limit. In any confined area, including studios, they will allow no more than one individual per 113 square feet.

Intensive Cleaning Procedures

Each reopening plan we looked at outlined how it will carry out intensive cleaning procedures.

Basic-Fit identified how it will ventilate and clean the club throughout the day.

“Based on the advice of the experts, ventilation and air conditioning systems can be turned on or off. Technically speaking, this is possible to implement. If the authorities deem it necessary, time blocks can also be used, for example, after every block of 1.5 hours of workouts, the club can be emptied and ventilated before the next group of people comes in. Clubs provide ample opportunity to wash hands with soap or alcohol gel, and can equip employees with gloves and other protective equipment in accordance with applicable recommendations.”

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Little Rock Athletic Club compiled a detailed “Recovery Readiness and the Member Experience” document that outlined stringent cleaning and safety measures including establishing “Health Guard” teams that will rotate and manage zones of the club for cleanliness and spacing. The document also lays out plans for additional hospital-grade wipe dispensers and alcohol-based hand sanitizing stations, as well as a fogging regimen using an EPA-registered and USDA-accepted product designed to provide long-lasting antimicrobial protection.

Clubs are also considering the extra cleaning measures that will be required in certain areas and amenities, such as racquet courts, pools, spin studios, etc.

For example, the USTA COVID-19 Playing Tennis Safely Community Tennis Guidelines say, “All court gates and stair rails should be wrapped with caution tape to discourage touching, or else should be wiped down every hour. Consider spraying tennis balls briefly with a disinfectant spray (e.g., Lysol or Clorox) at the conclusion of play. Using new balls on a very regular basis is highly encouraged.” And “All score tenders will be taken off the courts to prevent touching.”

Communication and Transparency

Another top priority in navigating your business, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, is communication. Transparency and consistency are key. Keep staff and members up to date and informed on the measures you’ve decided to take, how they’ll be implemented, and the importance of compliance.

In the state of Utah, where Sports Academy & Racquet Club is located, clubs were among the first in the U.S. to have been permitted to reopen.

“Once [members] are here and see what is being done and how often, they have been very appreciative of all of our efforts because of the huge mental and physical benefits of being able to use the club,” says Dan Smith, the club’s general manager.

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Carolynn Jordan

Carolynn Jordan previously served as IHRSA's Member Communication Specialist—a position that developed outreach for IHRSA members to gain knowledge on how to best use their benefits and stay engaged in the IHRSA community.