Many of who have been sedentary for way too long due to necessary restrictions on places hosting large crowds are itching to get back to the physical activities we love as gyms and fitness facilities reopen, but safety precautions must still be complied with. To get a feel for how local gyms are approaching their reopening, District Fray spoke with Sportrock of Alexandria’s director Sean Taft-Morales about their new protocol.
District Fray: How were you able to stay connected with Sportrock members while you were closed?
Sean Taft-Morales: We were closed for over three months, which is the first time that’s ever happened in our history since we opened in ’94. It’s obviously a very physical interaction and connection people have here, so it’s a hard space to transition digitally. Our first effort [to connect with members] was just to be as transparent as we could about what we were facing, what we were doing, the resources we have and the resources we don’t have. We set up a weekly Zoom call with the gym directors covering everything from broader educational topics, to what we had been up to in quarantine, to talking about what reopening would look like to a vigil for George Floyd and other folks who have been lost and the Black Lives Matter movement. We tried to create a space for our members to get together, and [to make] a space to maintain those connections that I don’t think any of us realized we relied on so much after we shut down.
I saw on Instagram when this first started that some of the Sportrock employees were promoting community fitness challenges. Could you touch on how those came about?
Some of that was more structured and on our official Instagram page, and some of that was more casual. A lot of our members and staff have relationships outside of the gym that started here, so it was kind of grassroots how the challenges got started. Some folks were just doing them on their own, some directors were passing the challenges back and forth, and we started highlighting the best ones on our [Instagram] page and got a lot of engagement from it. That’s the kind of thing that would happen in our physical space; someone would write a workout up on the white board and people would try to follow it, so it was cool to be able to pull that same energy and put it into a different format.
How was your first week of being back in person? Is it difficult to adjust to the new guidelines?
Totally. It was definitely a very scary prospect, but unlike most businesses we talk about life and death risk management on a daily basis as a climbing gym. We make decisions all the time based on how to create a safe environment in ways that people aren’t necessarily used to thinking about. So, in some ways, I think we are almost better suited to adapt to this kind of challenge because we’re used to having those conversations. This is also a different environment than figuring out tests you need to take to tie your knots correctly. We were able to do enough planning ahead of time and open in a conservative enough manner that we feel good. There are always some things you don’t think of, but our members have been good about following the rules that we put into place. We’re operating even well under our permitted occupancy under Covid because that’s where we feel comfortable given the inherent interactions that come with climbing. There’s only so much that we can do, it takes a village so I am very grateful that our members have understood that. People are choosing to self-police, and I think that’s really the only way this can work.
Could you walk me through some of the new rules you have in place?
There’s an orientation video that will take you on a little walk-through of the gym before you come in. We have people sign up for two hour time slots in advance, that way we have a cap of 50 people in the building at any point. When you come in, there’s a little sink right at the front so you’ll have washed your hands before you even enter the building. We have toe hooks on the doors so no one has to touch the door knobs. Then, we’ll take your temperature at the door and send you on your way! We’ve set up zones to facilitate climbing physically distanced. If someone is climbing in a zone, you need to leave the zones to either side of them open and then you can climb one zone over. This ensures there is sufficient space for physical distancing. We’re also asking folks to wash their hands and sanitize between every climb. Groups are limited to households or a max group of two during safety checks, when you check that your harness is buckled and things like that. Masks are required at all times in the building and we’re trying to increase fresh airflow by circulating as much outside air as possible.
What are you looking forward to in Sportrock’s future?
My hope is that we’re able to move on from this in some sort of timely manner. This will be with us for a while, which is part of the reason we chose a more conservative approach to reopening. We want to avoid a second shutdown and we want to be able to function should this virus continue for the next sixth months or year. My hope is that businesses are able to be responsible in their reopening, and customers are able to follow the rules so that we can stay open. Seeing the faces that we have missed for the past three months has been so rewarding. A lot has changed, but it’s been great to re-establish those connections.
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