Planet Fitness

Brad Driver, owner of Planet Fitness, demonstrates equipment at the new fitness center and gym in Waynesboro in December 2016.

In March, COVID-19 forced Virginians inside to help prevent the spread of the virus.

As the weather improved as spring progressed, people were limited in what physical activities they could perform. Basketball rims were ripped off backboards, playgrounds were covered in caution tape and many public pools were closed. Gyms across the region were temporarily shut down.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that portions of Virginia — excluding Northern Virginia and Richmond — would enter Phase 2 of a reopening plan beginning Friday.

Fortunately for Virginians that are missing exercise other than running, hiking and walking, Phase 2 allows more options to work out. The governor’s office released a 41-page document related to Phase 2, with a sizable five-page chunk outlining a safe return to gyms, pools and recreational sporting activity.

Instead of pouring through every page of the document, we’ll cover the basics you need to know.

Fitness, exercise

Good news, gym goers. Gyms can open in some capacity beginning Friday.

All businesses, gyms included, must follow the basic physical distancing guidelines and enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices outlined in the all business portion of the Phase 2 reopening guidelines. Those guidelines include social distancing between people in a business as well as cleaning of surfaces such as floors, countertops and door handles.

Other basics include posting signage saying that anyone with a fever or COVID-19 symptoms should refrain from entering the business location. Those exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past two weeks should also refrain from entering a business.

Additional guidelines apply to gyms and other fitness centers.

For starters, gyms should only operate at 30% of their capacity. If a gym’s maximum occupancy is 100 people, only 30 people can use the gym at one time.

Each person within a gym should maintain 10 feet of distance from other individuals. Gyms are encouraged to move equipment at least 10 feet apart, making it easier for visitors to follow those social distancing guidelines.

Fitness centers are supposed to screen patrons for COVID-19 symptoms. This means asking gym goers if they have a fever, cough, chills, body aches or other COVID-19 symptoms. People experiencing symptoms that can’t be attributed to something else — like allergies — will be asked to not enter the gym.

If you’re headed to the gym, expect employees who interact with customers — like someone at a front desk — to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth. Based on the language in the document, it does not seem like patrons need face coverings when using the gym.

This shouldn’t come as much of a shock to those familiar with gyms, but patrons should expect hand sanitizing stations within the gym. Those stations will likely be near shared equipment as well as the entrances and exits of the facility.

Any equipment that can’t be adequately sanitized won’t be available for use.

Gyms that can’t follow these guidelines are asked to remain closed, so it’s best to check with a gym to see if it will be open before venturing out Friday only to come up disappointed.

Basketball, tennis

According to the Phase 2 reopening plan, “basketball and racquetball courts may operate provided patrons maintain 10 feet of physical distancing while utilizing such courts.”

Swimming pools

Hot tubs, spas, saunas, splash pads, spray pools and interactive play features should be closed, according to the Phase 2 document. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools can be opened for limited activities.

Lap swimming, diving, exercise and instruction are the allowed swimming activities under Phase 2. Both lap swimming and diving must be limited to three people per lane or diving area with at least 10 feet of distance between each participant.

Understandably, lifeguards aren’t required to wear face coverings when responding to a distressed swimmer, but much like gyms all employees with customer-facing jobs need to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth.

Also like gyms, screening should take place for COVID-19 symptoms prior to admission.

While swimming pools are allowed to be opened in some capacity under Phase 2, Waynesboro announced in late April that public swimming pools would be closed for the summer.

Recreational sports

For organized recreational sports, 10 feet of social distancing is required between participants and coaches. Any competition involving close contact with other athletes should be avoided, according to Virginia’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines.

The 10 feet of distancing creates a few challenges, as even sports like little league baseball would almost certainly require players to stand within 10 feet of each other at times during competition. Other sports, like track or cross country, might be easier to perform while still maintain distancing.

Practicing seems like the easiest way to perform recreational sports without breaking the distancing guidelines. For example, a baseball team could hit off a tee while players stand 10 feet apart and field the ball. The batter could remain in the batter’s box instead of running to first base and standing too closely to the first baseman.

For other sports, performing running drills with distance between participants is certainly feasible.

There’s some ability within these rules to start practices of recreational sports without breaking the social distancing guidelines. Hosting competitions under the current guidelines is challenging due to the necessary 10 feet of distance between participants, though.

For events and practices, Virginia officials recommend limiting occupancy both of players in the space as well as spectators. Only parents, guardians or caretakers are allowed as spectators for indoor recreational activity.

Daily screening of coaches, officials, staff and players should occur before allowing them into a practice or competition.

Much like the other exercise-related rules in Phase 2, just because Virginia officials allow the activity doesn’t mean it will occur beginning Friday. Each city as well as recreational sport coaches and leaders will have some say in when activities will actually begin.

The bottom line

Phase 2 is far from a return to normal in regards to exercise in Virginia, but it’s a step closer to life before COVID-19. Some gyms will allow limited use, while outdoor activities like basketball, tennis and racquetball are now allowed as long as participants maintain 10 feet of distance between each other.

Pools can open in limited capacity and recreational sports can return in some form.

It’s important to note than while these activities are technically allowed under Phase 2, additional restrictions will vary city by city.

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