As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the state, area gyms were closed for health and safety reasons.
Most of the commercially operated gyms, such as Anytime Fitness in St. Helens and Clatskanie, are now back open and closely following the state’s pandemic-prevention guidelines.
To gain insight into how Anytime Fitness is navigating through the health and safety procedures, The Chronicle spoke with St. Helens Anytime Fitness manager Angela Lively and Clatskanie Anytime Fitness manager Veronna Arthur.
The Chronicle: When the pandemic hit, when did you close and when were you able to reopen your fitness centers?
Angela Lively - Veronna Arthur: We closed our doors within an hour of the state mandate being posted for closure. We reopened on the day we were released again by the state to do so. We were given approximately one week to prepare our facilities. Current employees returned ahead of re-openings to properly sanitize and prepare the gym with new guidelines issued by the state governor and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The closure began in late March and continued to around May 18.
The Chronicle: How many members does your center currently have and compare that figure with what your fitness center membership was before the pandemic.
Lively - Arthur: Our specific membership numbers do fluctuate daily with new members and cancellations. The Clatskanie gym does have a smaller member count than our location in St. Helens. Our gym strives to grow our membership numbers year over year. Usually we do accomplish this. The industry typically will grow and lose a certain number of members each year. We have grown in past years 8-10%. This year our membership numbers do reflect the concerns over the COVID-19 virus with a 30% usage decrease in our usage over last year in this same period.
The Chronicle: What would you estimate your center's financial impact has been due to the pandemic and have you had to lay off employees?
Lively - Arthur: With the usage’s numbers down 30%, we can generally assess that our losses would reflect the same percentages. The one PPE loan we were able to get helped with the payroll expense for May and June. Most of the overhead expenses were a drain to the overall financial health of the business. The only layoffs experienced within our gyms were during the mandated shutdowns. Some employees collected unemployment benefits through this period. All our employees readily returned to work as soon as it was legally possible for them to do so.
The Chronicle: Specifically, how has your fitness center adapted to the state required pandemic prevention requirements to ensure the health and safety of members and staff?
Lively - Arthur: Both of our locations and staffed employees have worked hard to prepare and make needed updates to the gyms to insure a safe and sanitary environment for our members to workout in. We have removed all cloth towels from the gym and went to using sanitizing wipes or paper towels with a 99.9% disinfectant manufactured by Lysol and recommended by the CDC. We have posted state mandates and guidelines at our entrances and throughout our gyms to keep members informed and updated on all requirements of members and staff.
We have 6-foot social distancing signage clearly marked throughout the gyms as well. Half of our cardio equipment has been placed out of service to ensure the 6-foot distancing is enforced. The water fountains were mandated out of service as were the showers. Signage was created for all the mandates put forth. We also now require personal sanitizing as you enter the gym. Mask are required for entry into our facility and signs are clearly posted at the door and throughout the gyms. All our equipment now must be sanitized before and after each use by every member, every time. This past week the mandates for our showers were lifted. They reopened this past Monday. We have also added extra hours to our staff for the specific task of cleaning and sanitation.
The Chronicle: You had mentioned that in the beginning of adapting the state requirements, you faced polarization from some of your members. Explain that and how you and your staff are working through the members' health safety concerns.
Lively - Arthur: Upon reopening some members were hesitant to come at all. For those too worried for their safety we have given them the option of placing their memberships on a temporary freeze. Others returned hesitantly but were happy to see the strict guidelines being met and followed by our gyms. Others still, had no fear of the risk involved with the virus.
We spent some time talking to our members about our different views as a whole and the importance of respecting one another and wishing to follow and adapt to all mandates put in place to keep our gym open and safe for all members. Regardless of their personal ideals, respect for one another has proven to have been key in our moving forward during this time safely.
The Chronicle: Does your center do contact tracing, if so why, if not why not?
Lively - Arthur: Contact tracing is necessary now in relation to the COVID-19 virus. By using contact tracing, we provide information to local officials if an infected person with the virus should visit our facility. This provides accurate information as to who has visited our facility if an outbreak should ever occur. Our systems in place have worked seamlessly for us, as it is now mandated by the State. Each member has a key that must be used for entrance to our gym. That key is read by our database with date and time. We can see who was here at the same time on any given date and provide a printed report if requested by State officials should the need arise with any outbreak.
The Chronicle: Briefly explain why you believe now is an important time for people to be doing some sort of physical activity and how that might also help their mental well-being.
Lively - Arthur: Our goal at Anytime Fitness has always been the health and wellness of the people in our communities. Now as our communities are struggling with so many issues, we truly understand that more than ever we are needed. We strive each day to provide a safe place for our community to get in a great workout. So many people have struggled with weight gain, depression, and anxieties. Exercise is a proven anti-depressant that is an immediate mood booster. Exercise is also one of the best things you can do to support a healthy immune system while burning off those extra calories. Peoples overall health and mental state is always improved with an active, healthy lifestyle.
The St. Helens Anytime Fitness Center is located at 1538-1540 Columbia Boulevard and can be reached at 503-397-0027. The Clatskanie Anytime Fitness facility is located at 600 E. Columbia River Highway and can be reached at 503-728-2777.