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While gyms can be hot spots for the sharing of body fluids which can spread disease, some fitness experts believe it’s an integral part of building the immune system, especially in the fight against COVID-19.

As the Government ponders the reopening of businesses on a phased basis, gyms are looking to welcome back clients.

While the Ministry of Health formulates protocols for the reopening of businesses, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram recommends entry screening for illness, social distancing and frequent sanitisation of hard surfaces, including having someone to clean equipment between use.

Parasram said wearing masks may be difficult. The public health inspectorate may meet with gym owners before giving the green light.

Parasram said he received a draft of the protocols for the reopening of businesses on Wednesday and queried the use of masks.

He expects the completion of that document today.

Personal trainer and health and safety practitioner Dillon Jeffrey said gyms can reopen, but with new policies in place.

Jeffrey, who specialises in office safety and blood-borne pathogens, said gyms can implement a rotation system to allow for a safe number of people to exercise at one time.

For smaller gyms, he said cardio classes may not recommence as there is not enough room for social distancing.

Where the gym has treadmills, members should use every other machine.Rondell Brown, general manager of Evolution Fitness in Chaguanas said: “The only thing that is giving this virus a fight right now is your immune system and of course, you know fitness helps with that.”

Brown said there will be changes in the way they operate. These include taking classes like aerobics and circuit training outdoor.

For spin classes, the number of participants could decrease to 25 from 50. And social distancing is a must so members may have to exercise based on appointments.

“We have to take some level of precaution. We may take some group classes outside to maintain the recommended spacing for each individual. “We are dealing with people sweating so we have to maintain that kind of spacing even on the gym floor. We have three levels of gym, 8000 sq ft and we may have a certain amount of persons on each floor that we need to limit,” Brown said.

At Crunch Fitness in Macoya, Donna Parks has it a bit easier as it all-natural air and community-based.Crunch Fitness operates 24/7 and when the staff leaves at 10 pm, members can continue to exercise.

“When we went 24/7, we did it with an automated system in place. We trained our members to use the gym when the staff is not there. They can use their key cards and get in, open the windows and close it back before they leave the gym. So there is no crowding in the gym and the reason we can do this is that we are a community, close-knitted, family-like gym. We know everybody and everybody knows us, Parks said.

When Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced the first COVID-19 case on March 12, Crunch Fitness installed a sink so members could wash their hands before entering.

To ensure the Ministry of Health’s physical distancing recommendation is followed, Park said they followed the pattern of US gyms, using a space of 10 sq ft per person.

This works out to 15 members being allowed to exercise at one time. In terms of sanitation, she said every third machine has a bottle and they swapped rags for paper towels so each wipe uses fresh material.

There will also be a policy that if you’re not well, you will not be allowed access.

“It is mandatory that management can restrict entrance to the gym if anyone is showing any sign or symptom. It is not difficult to make those changes for us because our members will call out each other if they get sick.”

The fitness industry, like many others, may take an economic hit as members lost jobs or suffered a reduced income during the COVID-19 lockdown. Recalling that the closure of Petrotrin and the impact on service companies, Jeffrey said he suffered a dip in incomes as some clients dropped out his fitness programme.

“A lot of people could not pay for personal training so the fitness industry could experience at an all-time. Gyms will experience a drop in their membership. Aside from the fact that people are losing their jobs, some are scared to go to the gyms.

“People are saying that if gyms open tomorrow, even with safety precautions in place, they are afraid to go into confined spaces where people are sharing equipment,” Jeffrey said.

Brown said while his gym can put systems in place, it depends on the number of people returning when the restrictions are lifted.

“If the restrictions are lifted, people may want to take some time before coming back to the gym.”