Texas’ gyms and fitness centers opened Monday as the latest step in Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to re-open Texas and kick start a reeling economy. Officials appear divided on the decision to open nonessential businesses so soon and concerns were echoed by gym owners and staff in Brownsville.
Under Abbot’s order, gyms and nonessential manufacturers and offices were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity. At fitness centers, all showers and lockers rooms must remain closed. All equipment must be properly sanitized after each use and customers are required to wear gloves. Social distancing is a must, and equipment brought from home has to be disinfected, as well.
The order followed guidance issued after Abbott’s executive order mandating shelter in place expired on May 1 that re-opened restaurants, retail stores, malls, and movie theaters with included restrictions. Hair salons, barbershops, tanning salons, pools, and nail salons were added to that list on May 8.
Data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed a statewide 92 percent increase in cases between April 10 and May 15. According to that data, the Rio Grande Valley also saw a spike in cases, albeit a much smaller increase of 13.5 percent.
Being open for business might be cause to celebrate, but local fitness centers are taking a variety of extra precautions to adhere to Abbott’s order and protect staff and clients while simultaneously providing services to frequent gym-goers who have been without the ability to train in person since March.
Luis Flores, studio manager at Orange Theory in Brownsville, wore a mask and gloves as he checked the temperature of every visitor entering the facility’s lobby. “For the first two weeks, we’re going to do check-in outside, six feet apart, and only five minutes before each class,” he said.
After every class, instructors do a deep clean of the space and equipment and class times have been temporarily reduced to 45 minutes from the original one hour. Flores and staff at Orange Theory expressed gratitude at the ability to re-open and help clients reach their fitness goals. “The whole team is on. We were lucky. We’re super excited and we’re fortunate to be in a business that keeps people healthy,” Flores said.
Brownsville’s small, local gyms were forced to find new ways to survive under shelter in place and related nonessential business closures. Some turned to online classes, like Vicente Esquivel, owner of Alpha Fitness Gymnasium and an additional gym, The Lab at Alpha in Los Fresnos.
“We’re trying to accommodate everybody,’ said Esquivel, who constructed a space for outdoor classes, ramped up his use of online platforms like Zoom, and even held classes in a park. “You have to be very creative as a trainer. With Zoom classes, it can’t be the same movements; it can’t be the same structure. You have to keep the client engaged,” he shared.
Esquivel said another challenge has been serving clients at home who aren’t able to source weights and other equipment due to shortages. “I was using everything from gallon jugs to children because they did not have weights at home.”
At Hardknox Strength & Performance, owner Kassandra McClanahan and a coach worked to clean after a two-hour open gym following morning classes. The extensive protective measures put in place to protect clients included the creation of 40 red tape boxes to properly distance each participant. Like at other gyms, face masks are encouraged but not required.
The facility is full of signage and there are periods of time between classes where clients must wait outside while staff cleans. “We decided to give it these two weeks, try it out, test the waters. If it wasn’t going to go the way we planned, we were going to close in June. Today was a success. Everybody followed the rules,” said McClanahan.
“It has been a struggle. It was hard on us financially, but we were pushing through. We were more worried about our members, who were telling us they needed us to be open, they needed it mentally.”