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Working it out — COVID’S impact on local gym re-openings

At first glance, it might seem like North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement last week that gyms could reopen at 30% capacity had no effect on the three gyms in Washington.

Athletic Edge and Fitness Unlimited were already open and the Vidant Wellness Center is still closed, so what’s different?

“I’m glad we can be open legally,” said Fitness Unlimited owner Amy Gerard. “We were shut down from mid-March to the end of May before I decided to re-open June 1. I have three kids to feed and employees to take care of. I felt like with all our protocols in place that it was riskier to stay closed and lose the business than it was to reopen. I can’t imagine our place being any cleaner, and we haven’t had any problems.”

In addition to cleaning equipment and the facility multiple times a day, Fitness Unlimited is more like “Fitness Somewhat Limited” for the time being.

“We are requiring our members to sign up for group classes in advance,” Gerard said. “We are also monitoring class sizes, but our rooms are big enough to accommodate and maintain social distancing. We are also not issuing day passes, so we are familiar with the members who are here at any given time. Our memberships are up and people are cooperating. So far, so good.”

Athletic Edge is in a similar position. The facility opened at the end of June after being shut down for more than three months. It qualified for the federal Paycheck Protection Program that allowed the employees (and the rent) to be paid until the doors opened again.

“We cleaned places we never even thought about,” said marketing director Hunter Stueber. “I vacuumed under the treadmills, which was a workout in itself. It was hard to go that long without seeing our members, but we got trained on the new CDC procedures and learned how to keep our folks safe when they did come back.”

Athletic Edge has gone to smaller class sizes to accommodate the new guidelines and has created more space between the treadmills and other equipment.

“Our members were very supportive during the shutdown and love how much cleaning we do every day,” Stueber said. “We trust them to stay home when they are not feeling well. We know we are in trouble if there is one slip-up.”

There is no danger of slip-ups at Vidant Wellness Center, which remains closed. COVID-19 cases in Beaufort County have risen to nearly 900, with the majority coming in the last month or so. Facility Director Judy Van Dorp said the data drives their cautious approach.

“We see how serious this virus is every day since we are part of the hospital system,” Van Dorp said. “Our local case numbers are higher than we think they should be for us to re-open safely. We evaluate the data every week and need to see fewer cases. We’ve had six months to plan for reopening and are ready when the time is right.”

Van Dorp said two other factors set the Wellness Center apart from the other gyms.

“Our members tend to be a little older than your average gym-goer,” she said. “That puts them at a greater risk, so we have to be extra-cautious. Our classrooms are also smaller than at some other places, so we will adjust the number of classes offered and the number of people in each class. We’ve heard from many members who are begging to come back, and we look forward to seeing them when it’s safe.”

Article contributed by Steve Barnes, for the Washington Daily News.