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An exercise in survival: Area gyms find ways to adapt to new state COVID-19 guidelines

Luba Demyanovsky has opened her Jazzercise studio again at 321 S. Dishman Mica Rd. and has reduced capacity to five to six clients per class, spaced out on blue taped X’s more than 16 feet apart. She asks clients to wear masks when not spaced out and working out.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Luba Demyanovsky has opened her Jazzercise studio again at 321 S. Dishman Mica Rd. and has reduced capacity to five to six clients per class, spaced out on blue taped X’s more than 16 feet apart. She asks clients to wear masks when not spaced out and working out. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

When new state guidelines went into effect earlier this month nearly tripling the amount of social distancing between customers exercising in gyms, it left some fitness club owners wondering how they would continue to operate.

Independently owned fitness facilities launched a petition earlier this month asking for Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the 17-foot social distancing requirement to 6 feet and 25% capacity in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

The petition, which had more than 17,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon, states the new social distancing requirement could be detrimental for small fitness facilities.

For some Spokane gym owners, adapting to the new guidelines – which limit the number of people allowed in fitness centers based on building size – is vital to remaining open.

3-Tigers Martial Arts owner Brent Tibbetts said his 2,800-square-foot facility is able to accommodate the new guidelines through reduced class sizes.

“We’re very serious about the protocols and are grateful to be open right now, so adapting to protocols was something we were going to do regardless,” said Tibbetts, adding the facility also conducts temperature checks, provides hand sanitizer and vigorously disinfects workout areas.

Tibbetts said 3-Tigers added more classes, some of which are held via Zoom, to accommodate all of its martial arts students, and adapted curriculum to incorporate more stretching and fewer cardio activities, making it easier for students to work out and enjoy martial arts while wearing face masks.

“(The guidelines) make it harder, but versus the alternative of being closed, we’ll roll with whatever keeps our community safe and healthy,” Tibbetts said.

Spokane Boxing also is adapting to the newest normal by allowing a maximum of 15 people – including coaches and trainers – at a given time in the more than 4,000-square-foot gym, owner Rick Welliver said.

“It works out OK, and we try to have people do stuff in groups of five,” he said.

Welliver said he doesn’t have an issue with the new guidelines if it’s backed by data and research, but would like to see a more clearly defined approach to how gyms are required to operate, as mandates seem to frequently change.

Welliver is confident Spokane Boxing will weather the storm of challenges brought forth by COVID-19.

“I have good clientele and have good enough overhead,” he said, adding the gym has a no-frills approach to operating. “We are a boxing gym. We get in, go hard and get out. Period.”

The Washington Fitness Alliance has been in discussions with Inslee’s office on guidelines that allow gyms to continue safely operating, said Blair McHaney, board chair of the Washington Fitness Alliance.

McHaney said the new state guideline of 300 square feet of distance between gym members is too restrictive and creates an operational impossibility for smaller fitness studios.

“What’s happened is large clubs have been able to open with 25% capacity or 300 square feet, but the problem is it’s a huge setback for our studios, our Orangetheory members and our personal training studio members,” he said.

McHaney, who owns two gyms in Wenatchee, added that many other fitness facilities nationwide have been able to operate safely under less restrictive requirements.

The WFA wrote a letter to Inslee’s office last week asking for reconsideration of the new guidelines.

In the letter, the WFA stated there’s insufficient data showing outbreaks are occurring in health clubs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a 6-foot social distancing measurement, and that gyms were among the first to embrace sanitizing and distancing protocols because of the nature of their business, among other things.

Some fitness center owners, like Luba Demyanovsky, have become innovative under the new guidelines.

Demyanovsky, who owns Jazzercise in Spokane Valley, hosted an outdoor dance for members in the studio’s parking lot last weekend.

It was the first time some members had been back to the studio since March.

“It was a little bit of a mood booster,” Demyanovsky said, adding the studio’s landlord was supportive of the idea. “It was just to bring everybody back, and we spaced everybody out. We just had a fantastic class. Everybody was super excited to see each other.”

Demyanovsky said she’s reduced in-person class numbers by nearly half – equating to about five people – to comply with the new guidelines, in addition to offering virtual classes via Facebook.

Jazzercise members also are required to sign a form indicating they are symptom free, she said, adding the facility also has implemented enhanced cleaning and changed the flow of how people enter and exit the building.

The Jazzercise location has felt the impact of fewer members since the onset of COVID-19, but Demyanovsky strives to maintain a positive attitude.

The studio hopes to host two outdoor dance sessions in the future, she said.

“We are trying to keep it as positive as possible, even with the amount of people we’ve lost,” Demyanovsky said.

“If you stay positive, it reflects on your customers, and the fact that we are open is a huge thing.”

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