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When it’s Time to Go Back After COVID Closures

It’s June 25th, 2020 and depending on where we are, we’re all in different phases of returning to in-person training sessions. Some of us are fully back in the studio working in close contact with clients, while some of us are still home, maybe teaching online or perfecting our crafting skills. Most others probably fall somewhere in between on progressing back to “normal” teaching. I meet regularly online with a group of trainers and studio owners, all from around North America and Europe, and have been following their experiences as some begin to reopen. What that looks like varies greatly, based on where they are, what their studio situation is, and upon their personal concerns regarding health and safety.

In my own situation here in Michigan, it looked until late last night as if we’ll be allowed to return to in-person sessions at the beginning of July, with many aiming for a July 6th return, after the Fourth of July holiday. But then, at 9pm last night, a court order was issued that has delayed re-opening of “gyms”, frustrating the small studio owners who continue to be swept up in this mis-categorization.

I’ve made arrangements to teach out of a beautiful new downtown studio that’s awaiting opening, while I continue to work on plans to build my dream studio behind our house. The fully equipped GYROTONIC® and pilates studio has only a few trainers using the space and has lots of windows that open for fresh air-flow, so It really will be an ideal situation, once we’re allowed to resume in-person training.

My primary concerns are accommodating the few clients I have that want in-person sessions, as most prefer to stay online, and resuming my teacher training schedule (while somehow rescheduling the four months of cancelled courses into my already packed calendar). And of course I want to do this all safely. I have my mom, dad, and stepmom all living close by and all over 75 to worry about, as well as my 98 year old grandmother who’s living with my mother. So I take safety over virus transmission pretty seriously.

Personally, I will be wearing a mask the entire time while I’m teaching, but will not require the client to wear a mask during their session. I’ll bring with me enough reusable cloth masks to change them out regularly. There’s a concern that when a mask gets damp after you’ve been breathing on it for a long time it loses its effectiveness, so having several on hand is a good idea. Fellow GYROTONIC® Master Trainer, Veronique Breen has been making beautiful cloth masks. I figure if we’re going to have to wear them we should get creative and express ourselves a bit while we do it. You can order them via her Facebook page

So what steps do we need to take to go back safely?

Check your local legal obligations for reopening protocols. These are different based on your location, so be sure to check out the guidelines and rules for your area. Write out your guidelines clearly and email them to clients ahead of their return to the studio.

Wear a mask while teaching. I know, this may be uncomfortable for some, but we are a service industry and to provide the best service to our clients we need to suck it up and feel a bit uncomfortable in our masks in order to keep them safe and comfortable. With all the effort and expense that goes into reopening you won’t want to risk infections at your studio shutting it all down again.

Update your waiver. You’ll want to either add language to your existing waiver about COVID liability and have clients sign again, or create and additional waiver specifically regarding COVID. I’m planning to write a new waiver for my clients that updates my old liability language with the the new COVID language. I’m not an attorney so you’ll want to do a little research online, or consult with a legal professional, to make sure your waiver includes what you need to protect you in your specific locality.

Keep the windows open if you can. From what I’ve been reading and following on news podcasts, circulation of fresh air seems to be helpful in preventing transmission of the virus. I’m not a medical professional, but it seems that keeping windows open is an easy safety step we can take, assuming of course that you teach in a space with operating windows.

Keep up to date on the facts. It seems like more information comes out very few days about this new virus. Initially they thought it was transferred by touching surfaces that had been contaminated with droplets, but now this is sounding like less of a concern while the droplets expelled by breathing, speaking or, demonstrated by a now famous example of a choir practice that lead to an outbreak of infections, singing, are a bigger concern. This is of special importance in fitness studios, where we’re doing breath work, verbally cuing, and projecting our voices. This is why I’m choosing to wear a mask. If everyone is focused solely on sterilizing surfaces, but then expelling droplets through breath and speech into each others’ faces, we might get ourselves into trouble and end up in shutdown again. Although we definitely still should be cleaning the surfaces, too.

Be flexible. One colleague was saying she was going to waive her 24 hour cancellation policy to discourage people from coming in sick. While I understand the motivation here, I think it’s a good idea to think more broadly of other options. Not many of us are in a position to be losing revenue to late cancellations right now. I plan to be ready at a moment’s notice to go from an in-person schedule to an online session. If someone wakes up the morning of their scheduled in-person session with a cough we can just meet on zoom that day instead. There may be another approach that works for you and your situation. This is the time to use your creative thinking to come up with solutions. (Maybe some of these solutions might even resolve cancelations or other issues as we move beyond the pandemic). Prepare your clients as to what your policy will be if they feel unwell or have concerns they may have been exposed. This should also be clear in your waiver.

Make your new schedule work for you. I’m planning to rework my schedule so that I’m not running back and forth from my home online set-up to the studio for in-person sessions and eating up time and energy on too many transitions. This is also a great time to check in with how you’re really feeling about the schedule you had been working pre-pandemic. Was it working for you? Now that you’ve had a break from it do you have a fresh perspective on it? Almost everyone has gotten used to having to be a bit more flexible these days, so this might be the time to shake that long-time client out of the awkward time slot you’ve kept for them for so long and put them into a slot that works better for you.

Do what’s right and comfortable for you and your life. If you don’t feel comfortable going back yet don’t give into pressure to do so before you’re ready. Some have compromised immune systems or underlying health issues, or live with people who do, and maybe should isolate a bit longer. Maybe you care for an elderly parent, or live with an essential worker who has greater levels of exposure that you don’t want to potentially pass on to your clients. We’re all feeling the financial pressures, and everyone’s situation is different. But if you’re not ready to go back get creative about how you can continue to work from home and maintain your relationships with your clients.

Make your expectations and rules clear to clients or students. Below is the set of guidelines I’m sending to GYROTONIC® students registering for teacher training courses, so they can be prepared.

“COVID Precautions for Courses:

Hands on cues are a big part of the course, as is use of the equipment by everyone in the course.

We will not be able to maintain 6 feet of distance, but there are other precautions we can use.

1. We will all need to wear masks. I will be using cloth masks and will have several to use throughout the day, so they can be changed regularly. Those moving or observing from six feet away can remove their mask, but anyone practicing hands-on or guiding breath cueing will need the mask on.

2. Many trainers are requiring that people change into fresh clothes at the studio before training. This is an option.

3. Hand washing- before and after touching another person or the equipment.

4. Sanitizing spray will be used on the equipment each time we switch out who is on the machine.

5. Each person will stay in their role of teacher/mover/observer longer, to cut back on the number of exchanges we do through the day.

6. Hand sanitizer will be near by for extra security (not to take the place of hand washing)

7. Of course everyone should be taking precautions outside the course to minimize exposure and should let us know immediately of any concerns.”

I’m hoping that these course guidelines allow us to work safely without compromising the depth of the training experience for the students.

It’s of utmost importance that as we reopen we do so safely and prove to our local governments that we can operate in a manner that does not spread infection. The last thing as an industry that we want is to have outbreaks of infection associated with studios. Keep in mind that if we get closed down again the bar to reopening next time might be higher. It’s also critical that we keep petitioning for studios to be properly categorized, so if there are more shutdowns we’re able to reopen on a more fair timeline, along with the hair stylists and massage therapists instead of YMCAs and large gym franchises.

These are hard times for all of us. My heart goes out to all the trainers and studio owners who are making such difficult decisions and working so hard to keep it all together right now. Let’s remember, none of us probably got into this line of work because we do things the expected way. It’s an unusual career that draws people who can think a little differently. That creativity and adaptability are possible our greatest asset right now. I have faith that we as an industry will find solutions to this crisis and maybe, hopefully, even come out stronger in the long run.

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