Health clubs and fitness centers in Massachusetts will be allowed to reopen Monday with the beginning of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.
But as Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito noted, “going to the gym may not look the same it did before the pandemic.”
As part of the Phase 3 announcement Thursday, the governor’s administration released the rules and recommendations gyms are instructed to follow when they reopen. The guidelines apply to traditional gyms with treadmills and weight training equipment, as well as yoga studios, spin classes, and martial arts schools.
And while such businesses are “strongly encouraged to offer outdoor classes” to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19, the new rules allow gym-goers back inside for the first time in more than three months.
“We hope these new protocols will allow more residents to return to exercise and fitness, and get back into those routines that they were accustomed to,” Polito said.
According to the guidelines, the number of people inside — including workers and visitors — will be limited to 40 percent of the facility’s legal maximum occupancy. Equipment must be sanitized between each use with disposable wipes. And everyone inside the gym must wear a face covering, unless it’s unsafe due to a medical condition or disability.
The rules also grant an exception to those who “cannot wear a face covering during strenuous fitness activities,” but require them to stay at least 14 feet away from other people if they remove their mask.
Customers who keep their face covering on still have to maintain six feet of physical distancing.
Gym equipment must be spaced apart as well.
According to the rules, weights, machines, treadmills, bikes, and other equipment must be spaced at least 14 feet apart, unless physical barriers are placed in between, in which case they must still be six feet apart. The guidelines say that equipment that cannot abide by those rules should be blocked off.
Additionally, the guidelines instruct gyms to limit “circuit training” and encourage customers to use just one piece of equipment at a time, as opposed to repeatedly alternating between several machines or areas.
Facilities are also encouraged to install plexiglass barriers at service counters to protect employees, similar to the ones at grocery stores and other retailers. Water fountains should also only be used as bottle refill stations, according to the rules.
The guidelines encourage plenty of signage and visual reminders for customers to stay six feet apart. Gym lockers must be marked or closed to enforce social distancing. Showers must also be closed, unless they accompany a pool.
Other features, including saunas and hot tubs, have to remain closed until Phase 4, which won’t begin until there is an effective therapy of vaccine for the coronavirus. As such, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that Phase 3, which will be divided into two steps, will be significantly longer than the previous two phases of the reopening plan.
Here’s the full guidance released by the state Thursday:
Each facility must monitor visitor entries and exits, ensure social distancing, and limit occupancy at all times to:
- 40% of the facility’s maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder
- Facilities for which no permitted occupancy limitation is on record may allow 8 persons per 1,000 square feet of accessible indoor or outdoor space
- In any case, no enclosed space within the facility may exceed occupancy of 8 persons per 1,000 square feet
- All occupancy counts and calculations shall include visitors, staff, and other workers
Arrange all equipment (weights, machines, treadmills, bikes, etc.) so exercise areas are spaced out at least 14 feet apart. Spacing of machines may be adjusted to at least 6 feet apart if barriers are installed
If spacing of equipment is not possible, equipment should be blocked off (e.g., every other machine) to maintain 14 feet distancing
Install visual markers (boundaries, walkways, signage, etc.) to encourage customers to remain at least 6 feet apart while moving throughout the space
Establish directional pathways to manage visitor flow for foot traffic, to minimize contact (e.g., one-way entrance and exit to rooms, one-way pathways). Post clearly visible signage regarding these policies
Stagger lunch and break times for workers, regulate the maximum number of people in one place and ensure at least 6 feet of physical distancing between workers
Close or reconfigure common spaces and high-density areas of facilities where workers are likely to congregate (e.g., break rooms and eating areas) to allow 6 feet of physical distancing
Close or reconfigure other common spaces where customers are likely to congregate or where social distancing is not possible, such as lobbies and waiting areas
Require face coverings for all workers and visitors, except where unsafe due to medical condition or disability
If customers cannot wear a face covering during strenuous fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 14 feet. If customers are wearing face coverings during fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 6 feet
Install physical partitions in areas where physical distancing is not possible, such as service counters
In group fitness classes, 14 feet of physical distancing must be maintained between attendees at all times. If physical barriers are installed between group fitness equipment, 6 feet of physical distancing should be maintained
Recommended Best Practices
Consider installing plastic barriers between equipment where possible. Barriers must extend high enough to effectively block respiration from someone using the equipment. If barriers are installed, they must be cleaned regularly
Consider establishing “workout zones” to encourage spacing of customers using free weights, dumbbells, etc.
Contactless payment and sign-in methods are encouraged
Ensure access to handwashing facilities on site, including soap and running water, and allow enough break time for workers to wash hands frequently; alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol may be used as an alternative
Distribute hand sanitizer and disposable wipes abundantly throughout the space for workers and customers to disinfect their hands and equipment before and after use
Disposable wipes should be placed next to each piece of large equipment (such as treadmills, bikes, rowing machines) and next to each area containing smaller equipment (such as free weights)
Require trainers to wash hands before and after each training session and sanitize frequently during each session
All equipment must be sanitized between uses. No equipment should be used by another customer or returned to the storage rack / container without being sanitized
Encourage customers to use one piece of equipment at a time (e.g., limit circuit training or “super sets” with multiple pieces of equipment) in order to facilitate required sanitizing. Facilities must provide sanitization supplies at each piece of equipment in order for customers to clean in between each use
If sanitation (or the monitoring thereof by employees) of any piece of equipment is not possible or practical, this equipment should be closed off
Encourage customers to use their own personal exercise equipment (such as spin shoes, jump ropes, yoga mats, etc.) when possible. If shared items are used, they must be sanitized in between each use
Post visible signage throughout the site to remind workers and customers of hygiene and safety protocols
Allow water fountains to be used as refill stations only, provided that social distancing can be maintained. Customers and workers should bring their own water bottles or purchase from the business
Staffing and Operations
Encourage outdoor exercise, classes, sessions, etc. where possible, so long as appropriate physical distancing is maintained at all times and any equipment used is sanitized after each use
Personal trainers should maintain six feet of distance from clients to the extent possible and should minimize any prolonged close contact. Personal trainers must wear face coverings. Any equipment used during the personal training session must be sanitized after each use, or at the end of the session if the client was the only person who used the equipment during the session
Provide training to workers on up-to-date safety information and precautions including hygiene and other measures aimed at reducing disease transmission, including:
- Social distancing, hand-washing, proper use of face coverings
- Self-screening at home, including temperature and symptom checks
- Reinforcing that staff should not come to work if sick
- When to seek medical attention if symptoms become severe
- Which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting and suffering from a severe case of the virus
Adjust workplace hours and shifts (working teams with different schedules or staggered arrival / departure) to minimize contact across workers and reduce congestion
Require customers to sign up for classes in advance
Facilities must screen workers at each shift by ensuring the following:
- Worker is not experiencing any symptoms such as fever (100.0 and above) or chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle/body aches, runny nose/congestion, new loss of taste or smell, or nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Worker has not had “close contact” with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19. “Close contact” means living in the same household as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, caring for a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, being within 6 feet of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more, or coming in direct contact with secretions (e.g., sharing utensils, being coughed on) from a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, while that person was symptomatic
- Worker has not been asked to self-isolate or quarantine by their doctor or a local public health official
- Workers who fail to meet the above criteria must be sent home
Maintain a log of workers and customers to support potential contact tracing (name, date, time, contact information)
Close or limit waiting areas and, for class-based activities with distinct session times, ask customers to wait outside or in cars until 10 minutes prior to their class
Schedule 30-minute windows between classes to allow for thorough cleaning and appropriate ventilation of the fitness room, and to discourage congestion
Clearly designate staff responsible for sanitizing, cleaning, and supervision during each shift
Workers must stay home if feeling ill
If the employer is notified of a positive case at the workplace, the employer shall notify the local Board of Health (LBOH) in the city or town where the workplace is located and assist the LBOH as reasonably requested to advise likely contacts to isolate and self-quarantine. Testing of other workers may be recommended consistent with CDC or DPH guidance and / or at the request of the LBOH
Post notice to workers and visitors of important health information and relevant safety measures as outlined in the Commonwealth’s Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplace
Close or mark lockers to enforce 6 feet social distancing, especially in locker rooms. Lockers should be sanitized after each use. Gyms should provide sanitizing wipes near the lockers or in the locker room
Close all communal and individually partitioned showers. Showers that accompany pools may follow guidance for pools located on the Reopening Website
Require that towels be stored in clearly labeled (clean vs. soiled) sanitary containers. Appropriate temperatures should be used when washing and drying towels. Employees must wear proper protective equipment (gloves and face covering) while handling towels. Towels should not be shaken out
Operations of related services may be allowed to open and must follow sector-specific safety protocols for each setting. Some examples include:
- In-facility child-care: Must follow child-care guidance
- Bars/food services: Must follow restaurant guidance
- Pools: Must follow pool guidance
- Athletic facilities (e.g., tennis courts): Must follow adult and youth sports guidance
- Massage: Must follow close contact personal services guidance
- Saunas, hot-tubs, and steam rooms: May not open before Phase 4
Fans should not be used indoors and should only be used for outdoor classes if directed away from other customers
For indoor and outdoor sports guidance, please refer to the EEA Reopening Site
Recommended Best Practices
Consider creating “shifts” for customers engaging in unstructured exercise (i.e., open weight rooms) by using a reservation system in order to enforce occupancy limits
Workers who are particularly high risk to COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control (e.g., due to age or underlying conditions) are encouraged to stay home
Encourage workers to self-identify symptoms or any close contact to a known or suspected COVID-19 case to the employer
Encourage workers who test positive for COVID-19 to disclose to the workplace employer for purposes of cleaning / disinfecting and contact tracing
Consider setting aside specific hours of operation exclusively for vulnerable populations
Limit employees to discrete work zones to minimize overlap where possible
Cleaning and Disinfecting
Clean commonly touched surfaces in restrooms (e.g., toilet seats, doorknobs, stall handles, sinks, paper towel dispensers, soap dispensers) frequently and in accordance with CDC guidelines
Conduct frequent cleaning and disinfection of site (at least daily, and more frequently if feasible)
Keep cleaning logs that include date, time, and scope of cleaning
Conduct frequent disinfecting of heavily transited areas and high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, handrails, equipment, etc.)
In the event of a positive case of a worker, customer or vendor shut down site and wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting of the workplace in accordance with current CDC guidance
Disinfect all fitness equipment or mutually-touched objects (e.g., spin shoes, jump ropes, dumbbells, etc.) immediately after each use. At no point should customers come in contact with objects that others have touched without first being disinfected according to CDC guidelines
Recommended Best Practices
Open windows and doors to increase airflow where possible
Get Boston.com's e-mail alerts:
Sign up and receive coronavirus news and breaking updates, from our newsroom to your inbox.