Maintenance and Operations

Keeping Campus Rec Areas and Equipment Clean During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of life from socializing to working to learning. Business, school and university closures became the norm, including forcing many of the nation’s more than 4,000 colleges and universities to close campuses. Today, states across the country are beginning the process of reopening and many colleges and universities are gearing up to safely welcome students back to campus. A report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the reopening plans of 1,100 colleges, found that 59% are planning to open campuses in the fall semester.

A row of fitness equipment.

As universities begin to welcome students back, directors of college recreational centers will need to develop plans, policies and protocols to maintain a safe and healthy environment. The many “moving parts” that make up college recreational center operations present some unique challenges for maintaining a safe and clean facility.

For example, some directors are adapting spaces by closing some machines or moving others to adhere to social distancing guidelines.  Auburn University’s Recreation and Wellness Center recently reopened with new safety measures that include capacity limits for group fitness classes, courts and locker rooms. The University of Montana opened its fitness and recreation center in May with strict guidelines in place including requiring all staff to wear masks and encouraging patrons to do so, maintaining a distance of 6 feet between all equipment, necessitating some out-of-service cardio and weight equipment and requiring patrons using free weights to maintain six feet, except when a spotter is necessary.

For directors in the planning stages of reopening recreational facilities, the following actionable steps can help them navigate the reopening process in the COVID-19 environment:

1. Remain up to date and follow guidelines

Remain up to date on state and local guidelines for reopening and follow CDC recommendations for protecting students and employees.

2. Establish a routine for cleaning and disinfecting

The CDC notes that “cleaning and disinfection is an important part of reopening public spaces that will require careful planning.” Recreation center directors should follow CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces by using EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19. The CDC also stresses that frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, counters, toilets, faucets and sinks is important for helping reduce transmission of the virus. Directors should also:

  • Consider establishing set times for closing the facility to complete deep cleans between uses
  • If budgets allow, consider an electro spray device or a vapor-based device to quickly and e­ffectively clean every surface of an area and the equipment within it
  • Deep clean everything. Don’t overlook things like functional trainer attachments, bands, mats, weight pins, and grips

3. Adapt check-in policies and procedures

Check-in procedures are the first line of defense in maintaining a safe and healthy facility during COVID-19. Check-in procedures that can safeguard staff and rec center patrons include:

  • Provide personal protective gear like face masks and gloves for staff­ to wear
  • Consider installing plexiglass at service desks
  • Set up a temperature check station for students at check in
  • Set capacity limits on the number of people that can be in the campus recreation facility at one time. The American College Health Association recommends options such as access control, use-by appointment, or other measures to limit the maximum number of people in the facility
  • Develop a reservation system for workout spots, strength and conditioning room and fitness classes
  • Train staff­ on all safety protocols including how to look for and identify COVID-19 symptoms
  • Post signage on all recreation center guidelines, policies, and procedures at the building entrance and throughout the facility

4. Establish safety protocols for each area of the recreation facility

Each area of the recreation facility will present challenges for maintaining social distancing and keeping up regular cleaning and sanitation. View additional fitness protocols here.

Cardio area

  • Space cardio equipment at least 6 feet apart. If there is not space to do so, turn every other piece of cardio equipment over­ and place a not-in-use signs on the consoles of the equipment
  • Instruct students to follow traditional gym etiquette and wipe down machines after use. This will keep them safe and help protect recreation center staff
  • Assign staff­ to clean machines after every use
  • Provide an abundance of wipe stations and/or spray bottles and towels for patrons to clean their workout stations, without having to share

Strength Area

  • Encourage lifts that do not require spotters or suggest the utilization of a smith machine where applicable
  • Space benches, weight racks and other commonly used stations at least 6 feet apart for proper social distancing.
  • Assign staff­ to clean areas after every use
  • Provide instructions for rec center users to clean their stations after use, including cleaning benches, barbells, and weights when finished.
  • Set a schedule for staff­ to deep clean the strength area, post the schedule for patrons to see, and make sure to follow it

Group Areas

  • Avoid station rotations during classes
  • Limit the number of people in each class or studio to ensure proper social distancing measures
  • Create a procedure script for instructors to go over before every class to ensure each recreation center patron is aware of the new normal and behaves appropriately
  • If needed, provide each instructor with their own headset and clean it thoroughly after each use.
  • Clean mats, weights, and anything else used or touched during the class once finished
  • Provide cleaning supplies for members to disinfect their used items at the end of the class.

Other areas

  • Consider keeping pools, rock walls and basketball courts closed for the time being
  • Mark traffic flow patterns throughout the facility
  • Set a locker room use plan. Ensure there are proper social distancing guidelines in place and use tape on the floor to indicate where people should stand
  • Increase the availability of hand sanitizing stations (60% alcohol-based rub/hand sanitizer) throughout the facility, especially in high touch areas (i.e. elevators and stair rails)

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