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Four questions every gym operating during the pandemic should answer
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Four questions every gym operating during the pandemic should answer

by Staff
February 5, 2021

The spread of COVID-19 has forced every club to think about what changes they need to make to their business. Here are four questions we think every club should consider.

1. Is your club’s air safe?

Since the start of the pandemic, public health officials have encouraged “social distancing”, telling the public to stay at least 6 feet apart when indoors to avoid spreading the virus.

But over the past few months, studies have found that Covid-19 can also go airborne, hanging in the air for hours and drifting beyond the six feet radius normally considered safe.

That’s because small droplets emitted when someone sneezes, coughs or speaks loudly sometimes evaporate, leaving the tiny virus particles, which are about 1000 times smaller than the width of a hair, to float through the air.

Do you know your exchange rate?

Ohlson Lavoie Corporation, an architecture firm focused on fitness and wellness, recommends health club operators adjust their HVAC systems to maximize the amount of outside air within the facility to avoid recirculating contaminated air.

Two easy and cost-effective ways clubs can improve ventilation are to open windows (if the weather permits) and reverse your ceiling fans, which pulls potentially contaminated air up and away from members.

Opening economizers on your HVAC units can also help as it will allow in more outdoor air, further increasing the exchange rate and improving ventilation.

Key Takeaway

Proper ventilation is a key part of making indoor facilities safe. Open windows, reverse fans and open economizers to bring in more outside air.

2. Should you change air filters?

While mixing outdoor air with recirculated air dilutes virus in the air, filters are a great way to remove any remaining particles from air that recirculates.

Filter efficiency is specified using a rating scale called Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). The higher the value, the smaller the particles the filter can remove from the air.

During the pandemic, local health officials have advised many businesses to upgrade to high efficiency filters like MERV13 or HEPA filters, but unless you’re a hospital, these are probably not the right choice for your facilities.

Commercial HVAC equipment is typically designed to accommodate filters with a MERV of no more than 8. Installing a filter with a higher MERV rating in a unit not designed to accommodate can cause problems. It forces the air blower to work harder, decreases air flow and may even cause the unit’s fan motor to burn out.

What kind of filters work best?

“Upgrading equipment so it can accommodate MERV 13 or HEPA filters is recommended if high filtration rates are required/desired,” Ohlson Lavoie says. But these filters are also more expensive and usually need to be changed more frequently.

The Adirondack Club in Franklin, MA, chose to upgrade its filters from MERV 7 to MERV 11, which provides a filter density capable of trapping the virus without hurting the unit’s performance, club owner Robert Hinrichs wrote in a letter to members.

Key Takeaway

Updating to filters with a higher MERV rating can help filter virus, but you should make sure your HVAC system can produce the pressure required.

3. Are your members ready?

While a proprely ventilated facility with filtered air is safer than one with no airflow, member behavior is still a critical component of avoiding Covid transmission.

Social distancing has become such a commonplace term since the pandemic began that it almost feels trite to bring it up. But as facilities reconsider their layouts and equipment mix in response to the new normal, consideration to baking these behaviors into the new design is worth discussing.

Where possible, clubs should try to make distancing as foolproof as possible by disabling and removing cardio and other equipment spaced too close together, reducing max club capacity and adding physical barriers where appropriate.

Have you established a member code of conduct?

Gym etiquette has always been a core component of operating a welcoming gym. Wiping down machines, returning freeweights to racks and laying a towel on benches and chairs before use have long been a part of good gym etiquette.

But as cleaning and sanitation become critical to gym safety, now is the time to review your gym’s code of conduct (or consider writing one) and educating your members on how they can help you keep the gym clean and safe — both for their fellow members and for themselves.

Key Takeaway

Having a strategy to educate your members on your gym’s code of conduct and new procedures should not be overlooked.

4. Does your team have a plan to stay disciplined?

While improved facilities and member communication will help, your team is still your last line of defense to ensuring a contagious visitors does not lead to an incident that shuts your facility down.

Ensure your team has the right procedures in place to ensure overnight cleanings are not skipped, members are screened for COVID symptoms when they check in, social distancing and masking guidelines are followed, and filters are changed according to the manufacturer recommended schedule.

What these procedures look like can vary, but incorporating COVID procedures into opening and closing checklists and scheduling critical maintenance work in a CMMS system are a great way to start building this discipline with your team.

Key Takeaway

Your staff are your last line of defense. Use checklists, scheduled maintenance and COVID playbooks to keep them disciplined.


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