Spokane’s two climbing gyms will reopen Monday under the state’s newest COVID-19 regulations.
That news comes just in time, said Timon Behan, the owner of Wild Walls. Prior to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Tuesday announcement, Behan said “time is getting short, we are just done.”
The Bloc Yard, Spokane’s other climbing gym, is also preparing to open Monday, owner Adam Healy said. Under the new regulations, indoor fitness facilities deemed low risk, such as climbing gyms, may have one customer per every 500-square-feet of floor space, said Jon Snyder, Inslee’s policy adviser on outdoor recreation and economic development.
Masks must be worn at all times, and each visit may last no longer than 45 minutes.
Wild Walls will keep attendance below 25% capacity, Behan said, and encourage social distancing.
The total capacity is 298.
“We look forward to our clientele being able to get back to their sport that supports them both physically and mentally,” Behan said.
Bloc Yard staff will deep-clean the entire gym over the weekend in preparation for Monday’s opening. The exact specifics of Monday’s opening are still being worked out, Healy said.
The climbing industry has, like many, been rocked by the COVID-19 closures. Although gyms reopened in Washington from July to November, that is typically a slower time for the industry with nicer weather drawing many outside.
The newly formed Washington Indoor Climbing Coalition, which represents the state’s 18 gyms, has advocated for the state to place climbing gyms into a category separate from other fitness facilities.
“Climbing is an inherently a socially distant sport that operates in large, open, tall, and well-ventilated warehouses doing an activity that is noncardio where participants are physically distant and 100% masked,” states the coalition website. “We support keeping the community local; we operate as membership based businesses requiring reservations so that capacity is low and we can facilitate contact tracing.”
The coalition also cites the fact that chalk, which climbers use to keep their hands from sweating, is “proven to reduce infectious SARS-CoV2 particles by 99%.”
In November, the gym coalition presented a proposal to Inslee that would have allowed for 25 to 50% capacity but never received an answer.
According to the Seattle Times, three gyms opened in Washington in 2020, and five more were scheduled to open sometime in 2020 or 2021.
Meanwhile, a November survey of 100 gyms around the nation found that one-third of gyms were not worried about going out of business, one-third were unsure if they were in imminent danger of closing and the final third believed they’d go out of business within the next year.
Although Healy welcomed Monday’s opening, he said the Bloc Yard could remain closed if needed.
“Even if it was extended a few more months, we would have been fine,” he said.
Despite climbing gyms advocating for a separate designation, Snyder, Inslee’s policy adviser, said the new rules were designed with all low-risk indoor fitness activities in mind.
“I think every activity came to us and said, ‘Hey we’re different. Hey we’re safe. Hey we should get our own consideration,’ ” Snyder said.
Making activity-by-activity decisions wasn’t practical, or safe, he said.
“There is not a mountain, pun intended, of specific data on indoor climbing,” he said. “Just like there isn’t for tennis. Just like there isn’t for gymnastics.”
Snyder “pushed very hard” to get climbing and other activities that use large spaces into the low-risk category. In addition to the better ventilation and ease of social distancing inherent in those spaces, he worried about what would happen if those businesses closed.
“If we lose that use, we will never get them back in some cases,” he said. “If a place goes out of business, someone might just think it’s better used as an Amazon warehouse.”
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