There are many things I miss from the pre-pandemic times. I miss having margaritas and queso on a restaurant patio, seeing the latest films at my favorite movie theater and the feeling of being out in public surrounded by others. And, I miss going to workout classes and visiting the gym…to counteract the margaritas and queso, of course.

While I’ve been running in the 90-degree heat and attempting to stream exercise classes in front of my TV with my dog barking and chasing me around the room the whole time, it’s definitely not the same. I’m eager to go back to the gym and attend classes, but I feel some hesitation about doing so…and with good reason. An early release of a report published in Emerging Infections Diseases traced 112 COVID-19 cases linked to workout classes across multiple facilities.

The researchers found that the moist, warm air combined with a turbulent airflow from exercising created an environment where droplets can spread rapidly. Aerosolized droplets can remain airborne for up to three hours, making crowded and confined areas like a fitness room a hotspot for spreading COVID-19. Additionally, the fact that workout classes are typically 50 minutes long means that there is a greater amount of time for droplets to spread among attendees.

Many gyms, fitness studios and community-based organizations such as YMCAs and JCCs are grappling with how to reopen safely during the pandemic. And, there are differing guidelines across the 50 states and D.C. for how a facility can reopen, and what preventative measures should be taken. It even varies within counties and cities in those states.

As you craft your reopening strategy, consider these steps:

Develop a Leadership Task Force

Assemble a team of leaders across your organization that can contribute to the reopening plan and highlight considerations and things to keep in mind. Do this before making any moves or decisions that will impact your staff and your members. You want to ensure that you have the right people in the room and that it’s a group of diverse, representative voices at all levels of the organization.

This team should revisit your vision, mission, values, goals, challenges and opportunities for your facilities and programs to reopen. Your organization may have been open throughout the pandemic providing childcare or other needs for essential workers, and those continued services may affect your program goals or present new opportunities and challenges for your reopening plan.

Consider sending a survey to members to understand which programs and activities they want to take advantage of when you reopen to help prioritize your staffing and reopening efforts.

Define Your Safety Plan

Your members are looking forward to attending the programs, classes and activities that keep them healthy and active. But they are also looking for guidance and reassurance on how they can do it safely.

Develop a plan of action with your leadership task force for how you will bring people back to facilities and the steps taken in each phase to ensure safety. Create plans for each of these categories as part of your larger safety plan:


  • How will you limit the number of people in the facility at a time to comply with social distancing requirements, and how will this be monitored and enforced? Some organizations are having members book reservations in specific time blocks to ensure limited capacity and limiting the number of members that have to be turned away at the front door due to high capacity.
  • Will you reopen group exercise classes with social distancing measures in place? Will you move exercise classes outdoors to limit the risk of exposure?
  • Will you offer virtual classes instead? And, how will members sign up for group classes?
  • How will you enforce social distancing on equipment, in the free weight area as well as in the locker rooms or pool areas?
  • What changes will you implement to prevent people from congregating in certain areas? Will this affect the check-in process?
  • For resident and day camps, will you limit movement between groups to reduce the possibility of transmission? How can parents sign up for camps online? And, will you provide (or mandate/enforce) temperature checks of campers each day upon arrival?

Cleaning and Sanitation

  • How often will equipment and surfaces be cleaned in your facilities? How will you clean equipment used between group classes, if you offer them?
  • Are there any hard-to-clean items you should remove from the floor such as resistance bands, foam rollers or other equipment?
  • How will staff who are responsible for cleaning be protected from exposure?


  • How many staff will you have present at facilities in each phase of reopening?
  • Which staff members will you bring back for these roles, and how will you communicate changes to responsibilities or roles?
  • What will you do to ensure your practices protect returning staff from exposure to COVID-19?
  • Will you test employees for COVID-19 before the return to work if testing is available?
  • Will you do daily monitoring of employee health (e.g. temperature checks)?
  • Do staff need additional training before your facilities reopen?


  • How will you time the reopening of different sections of your facilities? Will you reopen all at once, or in stages?
  • Do you need to make any upgrades or changes to your current services to meet new needs that come with a limited reopen? For example, are you able to track capacity limits with your member-management software and allow people to sign up online for classes, activities and camps?

Broadly Communicate Your Strategy

Share your plans for reopening and what will be included at each phase to your members, staff and partners, and provide regular updates as policies change and as you’re able to roll out new programs.

  • Revisit the survey that you sent to members and create targeted messaging based on their previous program engagement. For example, if you are planning to keep aquatics programming closed until phase 3, send a message to your members who have participated in aquatics activities in the past six months and let them know about what to expect in your reopening plan.
  • Provide regular updates to members in your member newsletter or in weekly emails that details reopening schedules, any new processes for check in, which facilities are open, your daily cleaning and sanitation efforts, how members can sign up for virtual programs, and more.
  • If your organization is continuing to provide childcare services for essential workers, be prepared for questions on how those programs will be managed and safety standards that are in place.

Revisit Your Plan Often

As of mid-June, many states such as Texas, Florida, South Carolina are starting to see a significant rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and local and state governments are considering whether the pump the breaks on their reopening plans. We will likely be coexisting with the virus for a while and organizations should regularly revisit their opening criteria to see if adjustments need to be made. Criteria can include:


  • What local and state restrictions are currently in place?
  • Are the cases in your area declining or increasing over the past few weeks? Is there adequate testing available?
  • Is there enough capacity in area hospitals for the number of patients who need them? Are non-essential health services available?


  • How do members and staff feel about returning to facilities? How many staff and members will need to be in the facilities to effectively (or sustainably) operate at a given time?
  • Which staff can continue to work from home?
  • Which programs and services can be replicated in a virtual environment?

I discussed more about this topic in free webinar with Jonathan Panter, Chief Financial Officer at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga. We shared how community-based organizations can develop a safe approach to reopening and leverage technology for more effective facility management. The discussion includes:

  • A review of reopening approaches across the U.S. along with best practices and tips from member-based organizations that have opened recently.
  • The strategy that YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga took when they reopened in mid-May and lessons learned over the past month and a half.
  • How to leverage your member-management software to ensure limited capacity, manage reservations, communicate with members about changes due to COVID-19 and more.

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