Gym owners in metro Denver began operating at 25% capacity on Monday as counties moved from Level Red to Orange on the state COVID-19 dial, although lack of timely confirmation from state and local health officials complicated the process of shifting to higher capacities.
Gym owners had been operating at 10% since Nov. 17 due to rising COVID-19 numbers in the fall, a level gym operators said was unsustainable for businesses.
Last week Gov. Jared Polis said he would ask the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to move Level Red counties to Orange this week because of declining COVID-19 numbers in December, but for much of Monday, the CDPHE map continued to show those counties at Level Red. Unsure of their situation, many gym owners waited for confirmation from county health departments, repeatedly checking county websites for updated information.
“We wanted to move based on the confirmation from the county, knowing that the state dial hasn’t moved quite yet,” said Kelsey Donahue, the regional director for 34 Orangetheory Fitness studios in the state. “We are only operating (at higher capacity) in the counties we have confirmation from.”
That was at mid-afternoon on Monday. A short time later, the state map finally was updated to show Level Red counties had been upgraded to Level Orange. Then, shortly before 5 p.m., CDPHE issued a statement saying it was allowing Level Red counties to operate at Level Orange, effective at 12 a.m. Monday — 17 hours earlier.
Late Monday night, CDPHE announced an amended public health order detailing the new rules, including an explanation of how businesses can qualify for Level Yellow restrictions under CDPHE’s Five Star certification process. It also allows gyms to operate at the same capacity as restaurants at each level of the dial, which was not the case before Monday.
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Gym owners noted that the move to 25% is especially timely, given that the beginning of a new year is a time many people start thinking about getting in better shape.
“It’s going to be great for us,” Donahue said. “It gives us the opportunity to potentially start to grow and get new people into our doors. Especially being January, we can actually welcome more people and we can actually serve our entire community. At 10% capacity, we weren’t able to host enough classes to serve all of our members. Now we are actually able to serve anyone who wants to work out.”
Donahue noted that studios in Douglas County were allowed to start operating at 25% capacity on Dec. 24, and that Orangetheory studios there saw a surge in visits that day even though they closed at noon because it was Christmas Eve.
“We were able to do 180 more workouts across our five studios in Douglas County,” Donahue said. “That’s 180 people who wanted to work out that we were able to help. Now, when you break that across all the studios, it’s so many more people that we can actually serve and make their lives better that we weren’t able to do at 10%.”
Gym owners are hopeful that CDPHE will soon allow them to operate at an even higher capacity. JoAnna Masloski, the chief operating officer for the seven Colorado Athletic Club facilities, called Level Orange “a steppingstone” toward viability for the industry. Masloski is an advisory board member of the Colorado Fitness Coalition, which was created last fall to speak for the industry with one voice in discussions with state officials.
“We’re not there yet,” said Masloski. “I would say the next step is for the community to recognize that gyms are doing all the things that are safe and that it is safe to come into a gym at 25 or 50% capacity because we’ve taken those steps well beyond what other industries have been able to do.”
For gyms that have been teetering on the brink, Monday’s news brought hope for survival.
“It’s such a lifeline,” said Kristen Baylis, owner of a Pure Barre studio in Lakewood. “It’s like the best way to start off the new year.”
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