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The downtown Bellingham athletic club was one of the first to welcome members or guests back and provide physical training and facilities to the community

Cars scarcely pass through the empty streets as the downtown Bellingham YMCA prepares to reopen. The club is scheduled to reopen July 15. // Photo by Nick Sadigh

By Nick Sadigh

While some people have become accustomed to masks, isolation and plenty of Netflix, studies have shown for a while, the importance of exercise. The Bellingham YMCA reopened July 15, said Assistant Director, Tony Clark. The reopening will provide a place for members and guests to exercise during the pandemic.

The downtown athletic club has implemented guidelines and precautions for its members. This includes limiting occupancy, revamping cleaning processes and offering online workouts, as stated on their website

“We’ve been closed since St. Patrick's Day, we’re really excited to welcome people back,” said Tony Clark, Bellingham YMCA’s associate executive director. 

Since March 17, the YMCA has taken steps to limit exposure for members and staff once reopening is permitted. For instance, two stairways will be open, one for going up and one for going down, to limit traffic flow. The facility has also redistributed machines around the entire facility to provide eight to 10 feet of distance. 

“We’re doing temp [temperature] checks and asking people if they have experienced any symptoms when they first walk in,” said Tracy Diehl, relationship development director for the Bellingham YMCA. 

Diehl also mentioned that guidelines will be attached to every exercise machine and posters put up throughout the building. These guidelines will include reminders to wipe down machines after use, and wash hands and use facial coverings when outside of the 6 to 8 foot zones.

“A concern for me is other people,” said Jack Gardner, a Bellingham YMCA member. “I think the staff will do a good job, but if we [members] are responsible for wiping down all the machines, I think there could be room for error.”

The club has spread around many facilities and machines, placing them in closed rooms to allow for more space and to divide the facility into sections, said Clark. Every hour, the sections will take turns shutting down for cleaning. Twice a day, both sections will be closed for deep cleaning. 

“We have added a misting machine, a device that puts out cleaning spray on the machines, doorknobs, floor, walls,” said Clark. ”It will clean pretty much everything in the surrounding area.” 

Clark also spoke about the communication the YMCA has had with the Whatcom County Health Department and the CDC. The YMCA sent reopening guidelines to the health department for feedback and advice that was recently approved. 

“We know we need to be safe and look out for our members,” said Diehl. 

The YMCA is asking members and guests to bring their own towels, water bottles, mats and facial coverings.

“Face coverings are required as you travel around the YMCA building and when you move from machine to machine,” according to the YMCA’s reopening guidelines. However, masks are not required while using the machines.

Members will be able to use machines and equipment spread throughout the building. The sports courts (basketball, volleyball, pickleball, squash and racquetball), child watch, locker rooms and showers, pools, saunas and climbing wall will be closed according to their reopening guidelines

“With a lot of the facilities and services shut down, another concern for me is how efficiently I will be able to use my time,” said Gardner. 

Online reservations will be required to use the gym in order to limit wait times and keep the occupancy at 30%

A study titled “A prospective study of physical fitness, obesity, and the subsequent risk of mental disorders among healthy young adults in army training” and Harvard Health Publishing’s article How to boost your immune system, have shown a correlation between exercise and healthy habits, such as a proper diet, a regular sleep schedule and staying active to a better immune system and improved mental health. 

A 2018 study by The Lancet involving over 1 million Americans found that regular exercise led to one and a half fewer days of depression and feeling sluggish per month. The experiment found that 45 minutes of exercise three to five times a week had better results. Also, people who have experienced depression in the past reported 3 1/2 fewer days of depression. 

In 2010, Peter Lavelle wrote the article Study proves exercise boosts immune system, finding that higher levels of physical fitness in 1,002 participants lowered their chance of catching a cold and lessened the symptoms by 43%.

In order for these facilities to stay open and keep our community active, the health department is asking people to follow guidelines. 

“Until there is treatment and a vaccine, use the only tools we have to reduce the spread of this virus that is hurting our community – wear a mask, wash and sanitize hands, keep six feet of separation, stay home if you’re ill or have symptoms and pay attention to state directives,” said Amy Cloud, joint information officer for the Whatcom County Health Department. “Caring for others and protecting your community's health is as easy as wearing a piece of cloth over your face.”


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