HOLLADAY — After weeks of self-imposed isolation in hopes of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, Utahns could be eyeing a May return to eating out and hitting the gym again if a new proposal is implemented.
Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert released a plan to potentially reopen restaurants and gyms, as well as resume some elective surgeries in early May in an effort to gradually reopen the state’s struggling economy in the wake of the shutdown precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses across the Wasatch Front have been hit hard by edicts issued by state and local leaders to “stay home, stay safe” as officials worked to flatten the curve of the contagious illness that has affected thousands of Utahns and has been blamed for 32 deaths.
Statewide, many gyms and recreation facilities have been shuttered during the quasi-quarantine period of the past several weeks, including Holladay Health and Fitness — a personal training business on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley. While large workout facilities can be crowded, making it difficult to maintain social distancing and appropriate hygiene, owner Rob Dunfield said his small operation has been impacted just as significantly as much larger gyms.
“We have anywhere from two to maybe six people that are there at a time at the most, so much different than most big gyms,” he said. “I kind of can understand why they shut down big places where there are massive amounts of people sitting in one place at the same time and sharing the same space.”
“My gym is so different than that. That’s why I was mocking it when they kind of like shut down all gyms no matter what they do or how they do it,” he added. An entrepreneur for the past 25 years, Dunfield said he has others small enterprises that are in financial peril as well because of the coronavirus shutdown.
“I’m continuing to work on projects and things, but my gym being shut down cuts my income come down almost completely to where that’s a huge loss for me,” he said.
He said he’s anxious to get his business back up and running again, and he will continue doing whatever he can to make his clients feel comfortable and safe in their workout environment.
“We definitely will be doing more safety precautions, but we were doing that before they ever shut down the city anyway,” Dunfield said. “We kind of saw what was going on and we’re very healthy and safety conscious anyways. Between every client, we wipe down all the machines and equipment. So it’s pretty good.”
He noted that while most gyms maintained a regular cleaning schedule, there hadn’t previously been a focus on wiping equipment down after every single person used equipment. He knows that will change going forward.
“I take all the precautions and I feel like I’m probably more cautious than the average person in terms of washing hands and wearing a mask in public,” he said. “But I wonder how long that’s going continue. Our day-to-day life has changed a lot in the way we look at things and the way we touch things.”
He said he feels like he could operate very safely even under the new paradigm with very minimal to no risk compared to how it was before the outbreak, but others may have a tougher time adjusting.
“I do think the big gyms that have hundreds of people going in and out of the doors a day are the ones that concern me for sure,” Dunfield said. “And big events like sporting events in arenas and things where lots of people can be real close — that type of stuff worries me a lot more.”
Meanwhile, a Utah County health and wellness outpatient care clinic has been able to keep its doors open throughout the COVID-19 crisis and believes its approach to public health could be a model for others to follow.
Dr. James Eager, director of sports medicine at The Training Room — a personal training and sports medicine facility in American Fork — said the way they operate their small business in a large 22,000-square-foot space with fewer clients on the premises at any given time creates built-in physical distance between individuals.
“One of the reasons we were able to stay open was aside from the fact that Utah County doesn’t actually have an order on gyms closing, we can do all the social distancing and it goes into more of how we run things here,” he explained. “We clean the gym the same way that we clean the clinic, which means we’re using biocidal, fungicidal, bactericidal mat cleaners that kill basically everything under the sun.”
“So all the things that other gyms that are trying to do to reopen like saying we’re only gonna have this many people in the building — we’re already doing this stuff,” he added.
He said his business has about 400 members and typically there are no more than 50 in the building at a time — minimizing the risk people might see at other big workout facilities.
“For a lot of smaller gyms like us where we have much less bodies, and you could lump in most of the CrossFit gyms — most of your mom and pop shops, they probably could have stayed open and been just fine because the traffic going through the doors for places like us and them isn’t nearly the volume there is for other places,” Eager said.