The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Sports Editor 

Gyms, Sports Leagues Adjusting - Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 3/19/2020 at 11:05pm

With COVID-19 virus concerns impacting nearly every facet of life, local gyms, sports leagues and recreation centers say they’ve had to adapt quickly in the face of a fluid situation that seems to change every day.

And that’s meant tough business decisions for owners trying to balance the economic side of daily operations with government recommendations that people practice social distancing and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

Josh Vandegrift, owner of the Brevard Health & Racquet Club, said while the facility plans to stay open, they cancelled all group exercise classes, as well as on-site child care, beginning this past Monday and running through the end of March.

The Racquet Club typically hosts at least half a dozen exercise classes, spanning across multiple disciplines, on a daily basis. Vandegrift said while he knows the classes are popular with patrons, the common sense measure in the face of the virus was to cancel them to try and prevent transmission.

“We thought we were going to have to shut those down eventually, just given how close people are in proximity to each other in those classes. And the teachers don’t want to be in a tight room with a bunch of people, either. So, we felt that this was the best move right now moving forward,” he said.

In the meantime, the Racquet Club’s pool will remain open, as will cardiovascular machines – such as treadmills – as well as weight machines and free weights.

Vandegrift said staff has been extra vigilant in wiping down machines and has put out bottles of hand sanitizer for patrons.

The plan, he said, is to re-evaluate the state of things at the beginning of April, which could be drastically different, for better or worse.

“Who knows what the world is going to look like in two weeks – which is kind of scary,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift added that he doesn’t plan on closing the club entirely, unless there is a local outbreak of the virus, or a mandate comes down from the government.

A complete shutdown would be difficult to bear, he said, not just for the business, but for employees, as well.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t get to that point because that would be really awful. We’ve got a lot of employees and we’ve got bills that we have to pay. In the service industry, it’s going to be hard on everybody around the country,” he said.

On the other end of the county, Charity Smith, owner of Workout Anytime Brevard, said she plans to keep the facility open, adding that staff has taken on new cleaning measures to ensure the safety of patrons.

“We’ve always been a very clean gym, but we have instructed our staff to wipe down the interior and exterior door handles more often. We have always used an antibacterial wipe on our equipment. We’ve always spent the extra money to do that and our members have taken advantage of that, which is reassuring,” Smith said.

Workout Anytime offers a few exercise classes, generally with six or fewer members per class, but Smith said those were cancelled until further notice.

Technology is also playing a role, as Smith said the gym launched a new app that provides patrons with at-home workout routines.

So far, she said, most of the feedback from patrons has been asking whether or not the gym plans on staying open, to which Smith said, she does.

“So long as we’re doing our due diligence in keeping things clean, we plan to stay open. And we’ve been telling our members that aren’t feeling well or have somebody staying in their household with a compromised immune system not to come in,” she said.

As one of the larger and more popular gyms in the area, The Fitness Factory has also been dealing with the coronavirus response.

Kenny Howard, general manager of The Fitness Factory, said staff has been putting in extra effort to sanitize the facility, but noted he has seen a decrease in the number of people coming into the gym.

“Right now, we’ve obviously increased the amount of cleaning,” Howard said. “We’re disinfecting everything as much as we can. We have seen a decrease in the amount of people coming in. We have a large amount of retirees that use our facility, and with them being higher-risk, that is to be expected. But we’re planning on staying open as long as we can unless there’s a mandated policy put in place.”

The Fitness Factory has also taken the proactive step to cancel all group exercise classes for the time being.

Given the space of the building, Howard said patrons are encouraged to not get in close proximity to one another.

As far as feedback from members, Howard said it’s been a bit of a mixed bag, with some begging the facility not to close while others exercise an abundance of caution.

“It seems there are some people that are panicking, maybe too much, and then some people that aren’t concerned enough,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the fence and not knowing exactly what to do. It’s a pretty big mess. It honestly feels a little like a dream.”

In the interim, Howard reiterated that The Fitness Factory plans to stay open as long as they can, and implored members to practice proper sanitation, before, during and after their workout, as well as not coming into they gym if they don’t feel well.

Bart Thomas is one of the owners of 828 FIT, one of the newest gyms in town. Thomas said he hasn’t seen as many people coming in to work out, particularly older members, but pointed out that his facility was set up to accommodate exercise while adhering to social distancing practices.

“Our numbers are down and people aren’t coming around as much. The way our equipment is set up, and with the size of our gym, it’s really compliant with the social distancing standards. All of our machines are about eight feet apart,” he said.

One step Thomas is considering is waiving gym fees for members during April.

The goal, he said, would be to alleviate financial burdens or give people the opportunity to take their fees and pay it forward to those in need in the community.

“I’m considering that so people can pay bills or maybe help out somebody who they know is having problems or donate it to a charity and inject it back into the community,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he plans to stay open as long as he can, adding that if cases started popping up locally he would have to re-evaluate. In the meantime, like other gym owners, he is at the mercy of a constantly evolving situation and trying to respond in a practical and safe manner.

“Right now, it’s a catch-22,” Thomas said. “I need to take care of people who want to come in and work out, along with the employees that need to work for their income. It’s a real tough situation to navigate.”

Transylvania Little League

One youth sports league impacted by COVID-19 has been Transylvania’s Little League (TLL) program.

Initially, the league tried to maintain operations, but ultimately postponed play on March 14, following Gov. Roy Cooper’s mandate to close all public schools for two weeks.

According to TLL President Cody Owens, there is currently no timetable for when play will resume.

“As of right now, Transylvania Little League is continuing to monitor and evaluate the ever-changing landscape that we’re dealing with. We don’t have any definitive information as to when operations will resume,” he said.

Owens said he and other league officials had been in close contact with city and county officials, as well as the school system, during the decision-making process. Little League International also sent out recommendations to local leagues.

Those recommendations included postponing play, and were followed up by more guidelines to suspend play through May 11.

Currently, Owens said TLL would continue to follow the governor’s mandate and that play would not return unless school was back in session.

“Obviously, our desire is to have a Little League season, but we also have a responsibility to our Little League members, as well as the general public, and we don’t want to do anything that would adversely affect anybody’s health,” he said.

When it came to feedback from parents and coaches, like others said, Owens described a mix of people who thought precautions should have been taken sooner and others who felt some measures were overreactions.

“Everything happened so fast,” Owens said. “We had some folks who were frustrated that we weren’t more proactive and I also heard from some folks who were frustrated that we were as proactive as we were. But I think, by and large, people understand the situation that we’re in, and we just hope that they’ll continue to be patient as we monitor the situation.”

Transylvania County Parks & Recreation

On the county level, the Transylvania County Parks & Recreation department closed to the public effective Monday through March 30. That closure impacts many programs for youth and seniors.

Jared Mull, parks and recreation director, said on Tuesday that impacted programs include: youth volleyball, youth dodgeball, Play the Day Away (a program set for March 23 that was to coincide with a teacher workday), several facility rentals (birthday parties and other gym usage), indoor Fun Play (a pre-K program that meets twice a week), as well as senior pickleball, badminton and basketball.

Next Thursday was slated to be the Senior Games annual barbecue fundraiser, but that has been postponed and the viability of the 2020 Senior Games is now in question.

Mull said the state has extended the deadline for local games to conclude from the end of May to the end of July.

However, presuming life returns to normal by then, that would put the Senior Games coinciding with summer camp season, making it extremely challenging to hold the games.

“Summer camp season is the busiest time of the year for us,” Mull said. “It’s going to be virtually impossible to do camp and the Senior Games. So, we’re trying to navigate that situation and we won’t know what we can do until we see how the situation unfolds with this virus.”

In the meantime, parks and recreation – both staff and the facility – are bracing for a shift in their mission, from physical activity to child care.

Mull said most staff are being reassigned to child care by the county and the center could be used for that purpose.

Mull said staff is already in the process of coming up with activities for kids that are practical, yet balancing that against the necessity of proper sanitation and cleaning in light of the virus.

As for when the facility might re-open under normal operations, Mull said the county would continue to take its cue from health officials.

“We really rely on the health department – both at the state and the federal level. Right now, we’re just trying to be flexible and be ready to go back to work whenever the time comes,” he said.

Public Health Response

While public and government facilities continue to face the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus, local health officials say they have not received any direct recommendations regarding gyms and fitness centers, as of Tuesday afternoon.

“What we have heard, so far, is that those facilities should follow the same social distancing recommendations as other businesses,” said Tara Rybka, with the Transylvania County Health Department.

Among those directions, Rybka said it would be prudent for gym owners to encourage those who are sick, those who are in the high-risk category (age 65 or older), or those with an existing medical condition or compromised immune system to stay away. That applies to those living with a person in those categories or exhibiting those symptoms.

In regards to social distancing, Rybka said she wasn’t aware of any medical evidence that suggested working out together in close proximity was inherently more dangerous than simply gathering together, in general.

However, practicing that social distancing and keeping away from each others might be more difficult at the gym than other arenas.

“For gyms, social distancing may be things like closing off every other treadmill,” Rybka said. “It may not be feasible to move all the gym equipment. So, it may make more sense to designate that people only use every other piece of equipment. And you want to make sure to avoid close proximity, which is a great reason to cancel those group classes.”

For those who treat a trip to the gym as a daily relief, the next few weeks and months will be a tough period, but Rybka said they should begin readying themselves to change their exercise routine in the face of an evolving virus.

“This is not a hurricane. We’re not going to be over this in two weeks. Exercise is an important part of many people’s lifestyles and it’s important that folks find a way to be physically active during this time,” she said.

Possible alternatives to the gym and indoor exercise are outdoor activities such as walking, Hiking, jogging or cycling. Rybka said while those activities are slightly less risky due to the open exposure, people should still practice social distancing and only partake in those activities with people they are in close, daily contact with.

“The whole point of social distancing is to minimize the amount of contact you have with other people. So, as much as possible, we should spend time at home and interacting with the same group of people,” she said.


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