Austin gyms step up cleaning procedures, brace for possible closures as coronavirus spreads

Gyms are seeing fewer members as people adopt social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Chase Karacostas/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gyms are seeing fewer members as people adopt social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Chase Karacostas/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gyms are seeing fewer members as people adopt social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Chase Karacostas/Community Impact Newspaper)

Big Tex Gym in North Austin is not taking any chances as cases of COVID-19 spread around the city. On Friday, gym manager Chris Rios said a guest was sent home after she began lightly coughing.

“She got frustrated with us,” Rios said, adding that they weren’t sure if her cough was meant as a joke, “But it’s not the joking time for that stuff.”

Big Tex has also taken extra precautions in recent weeks to increase its sanitation protocols for its equipment, some of which could be used by dozens to hundreds of people in recent days. Rios said the gym also implemented a cap of how many people can use it at a time—200—to help protect both guests and employees.

“We’re spraying down all the machines every day,” Rios said. “And we’re cutting it off [occupancy] at 200, but fortunately we don’t ever get super full like that. ... We’re just a mom-and-pop gym.”

Hyde Park Gym in Central Austin encouraged guests in an online statement to wash their hands frequently and use sanitizer “liberally,” but similar to Big Tex, stated coughing or sneezing guests would be required to leave immediately.

“If you are feeling less than optimal, stay away from the gym,” the statement read.

Mecca Gym and Spa near Whole Foods in downtown and Austin Bouldering Project also said they were implementing more stringent cleaning procedures.

In an email to members, Austin Bouldering Project later wrote on March 16 that it decided to close until further notice.

"Given the known characteristics, impact and staggering statistics of coronavirus, we are closing the gym as a safety measure to protect our members, guests, staff and wider community," the business stated in the email.

Mecca’s front desk manager Shaina Flowers said they have removed all communal items, such as ice buckets, and equipment is being wiped down every hour.

“We are specifically a very low attendance gym,” she said. “There is always going to be that six feet of space between you and another person. We just luckily are in a special circumstance because we are not that kind of [high-volume] gym.”

Some cities such as Los Angeles and New York have already closed their gyms to fight the spread of the disease, but Flowers said they are not too worried about that because of their lack of dense crowds. Yet, should an order come from the city to close, and “if it comes to where that needs to happen, then that is what will happen,” she said.

City of Austin spokesman Andy Tate referred Community Impact Newspaper to the city’s recent decision to ban gatherings of 250 people or larger when asked about whether it was looking at closing gyms. The city has already closed all of its recreational centers and pools in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

“If a private gym, pool or center invited in more than 250 people at the same time in a single room or other confined or enclosed space they would be in breach of the ban,” Tate said in an email.

A notice posted to UT RecSports’ website said all events and formal programming have been canceled through March 29 and that additional cleaning has been done to its facilities.

But as an added measure, University of Texas spokesman JB Bird said UT RecSports is closed for the time being. This includes Gregory Gym and the Recreational Sports Center on campus, the Berry M. Whitaker Sports Complex on 51st Street and other facilities. The university does not yet have a date on when RecSports will reopen.

“Your well-being is our No. 1 priority,” a statement on RecSports’ website said. “Please keep in mind that as the situation evolves, additional changes and modifications may be necessary. Our leadership is meeting regularly to address and enact prevention and response efforts as the situation continues to evolve.”

Austin Fight Club manager Michael Bradford said in an email that they pushed back the gym’s reopening by a week from this past Sunday to at least March 22. After reopening, Bradford said they will drop the number of clients in each class from 40 to 20 to allow for more space along with requiring clients to bring their own boxing gloves and eliminating one-on-one boxing with trainers “to reduce close contact.”

Community Impact Newspaper reached out to the large gym chain Gold’s Gym but has yet to hear back.

In an email, a representative for Life Time Fitness said the company decided to temporarily close all locations in the U.S. and Canada at 8 p.m. March 16. Members will be credited for the number of days the clubs are closed.

Anytime Fitness wrote in a statement on its website that, “We continue to uphold our high standards of cleanliness by wiping down machines, surfaces and disinfecting thoroughly, multiple times a day.”

All YMCA of Austin facilities remain open currently, according to an FAQ posted to its website. The organization said it was still safe to exercise there and place children in their “Child Watch,” a short-term child care program for parents who are exercising or attending a workout class at the YMCA. Like other gyms, the YMCA said it increased the frequency of cleaning its facilities, including added sanitation of gym equipment and exercise areas.

Editor's note: This article will be updated as new information is received. Email our editorial team at [email protected] to have your gym included.


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