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Should Gyms be Concerned About the Coronavirus?

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The coronavirus has now spread to all but a few states in the U.S. With the number of active cases following an exponential curve, schools are closing, the N.B.A. season is suspended, and Monday, March 9th, marked the worst trading day since 2008. To say that the coronavirus is like the flu is a gross understatement—scientists don’t yet have a vaccine to limit its spread and the fatality rate may be more than 1 percent, much higher than the flu.

Exercise is known to boost the immune system, along with making us happier, healthier people. But climbers that don’t have easy outdoor access rely on gyms, where crowds meet to breathe heavily and sweat on mats, holds, harnesses, ropes and other pieces of equipment. Should gym affiliates be worried? 

“I think this is a really big deal,” says Fabrizzio Zangrilli, owner of Monkey House climbing gym, located in Carbondale, Colorado. Carbondale is just 30 minutes northwest of Aspen, Colorado, where there’s the largest cluster of coronavirus cases in the state. 

“We could only survive about two weeks of being shut down. We don’t have a lot in reserve and we are a month to month business. And we’re not the only business in the valley that would be impacted in that way,” says Zangrilli. He doesn’t plan on closing the gym at this time, but is taking precautionary measures such as wiping down the check-in iPads and encouraging members to wash their hands. Even staying open, he worries how gym traffic will be impacted in the coming weeks and months.

Momentum Indoor Climbing, in Seattle, has increased the frequency of their professional cleaning service, asked their staff to be more diligent in observing cleaning protocols and they have waived their freezing fee for the members’ March 15th billing period. Seattle is just one of the U.S. hot zones, as of press time.

Unfortunately, washing hands and cleaning common surfaces will only go so far. The most commonly touched surfaces in the gym are the holds, which in most gyms are only washed every four to six weeks. It’s unrealistic to think that holds can be sanitized more frequently than they already are.

Instead of hiring a full-time cleaner, the best way to manage the virus is to slow transmission, meaning sick people need to stay home. Momentum sent out an email to its members asking just that. “And as much as we love seeing your smiling face, please consider staying home if you feel sick,” stated the email. “If someone in our facility was actively coughing or showing symptoms of the virus, we would politely encourage them to recover at home and return to the gym when they are feeling better,” adds Jeremy Park, general manager of Momentum. 

But gym owners beware! Even friendly conversations have the potential to go awry. And as the Climbing Business Journal wrote, “kicking someone out of your gym because they “look sick” can open a Pandora’s box of legal consequences.” Signs or emails making health-conscious suggestions are the safest tactics. 

Talking big picture, CNN wrote that the coronavirus will cause a “short and sharp” recession. Unfortunately, climbing gyms across the country may bear the brunt of the outbreak (along with other sectors of the service industry) if they are indeed forced to close or if too much traffic is lost. Being Monkey House patrons ourselves, Gym Climber hopes that isn’t the case. All gym affiliates will need to do what they can to mitigate risks.

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