The coronavirus pandemic has rattled a host of otherwise thriving industries, from hotels to restaurants to gyms. In fact, in November, Cyc Fitness, a popular cycling studio chain, and Yogaworks (OTCMKTS: YOGAQ), an indoor yoga chain based in California, filed for bankruptcy due to the financial impact of the pandemic.
Not only have gyms had to grapple with long-term closures and capacity restrictions, but there's also the fear factor to consider. COVID-19 is said to spread most frequently through respiratory droplets produced by talking, singing, or breathing heavily -- something that commonly happens during a workout. And while many gyms are enforcing mask-wearing, that's not necessarily going over so well among paying customers, many of whom feel they can't exercise optimally with a piece of cloth covering their mouths and noses.
But while gym members may not enjoy mask-wearing, it's just one of many safety precautions these establishments will need to take if they want to survive the pandemic and come out with loyal paying customers on the other side. In fact, gyms should be going out of their way right now to implement safety features that not only give members peace of mind but actually limit the risk of contracting COVID-19 during a workout.
The right setup and precautions can help
Earlier this year, a Virginia gym owner named Velvet Minnick was forced to shut down her facility when she learned 50 members were potentially exposed to COVID-19 through one of the coaches who worked there. But thankfully, not a single one developed symptoms, and Minnick credits smart protocols and added ventilation as the reasons why.
In addition to a ventilation system that included special monitors to track indoor air quality levels, Minnick created athlete stations that allowed for 10 feet of space between exercisers -- more than the recommended six feet of space. The logic was that athletes at a gym breathe more heavily than the average person, so the added separation was a must.
Furthermore, at Minnick's gym, members can't roam through the facility or share equipment. These restrictions may make working out less social and fun, but from a safety standpoint, they should pretty much be the gold standard. And gyms that want to stay in business during the pandemic should really consider following in Minnick's footsteps.
Now, not every gym can afford to upgrade its ventilation system. But those that can't should, at the very least, opt for a low-tech but effective alternative: keeping doors and windows open at all times. Marking off separate workout stations is another easy, low-cost strategy.
Not only can these measures help gyms maintain their revenue in the near term, but they can help them retain members on a long-term basis. If members feel well-protected, they're apt to keep paying.
The bottom line
Of course, in some cases, even the right precautions might fail to fully mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Gym owners can only do so much to enforce safety guidelines; they can't necessarily spy on locker rooms to ensure that members are keeping a safe distance while they shower and change. But gyms -- and by extension, their commercial landlords -- that want to survive in a COVID-19 world need to make a serious effort or otherwise risk losing members or being forcibly shut down as a matter of public health.