Lace-up your tennis shoes and grab a face mask. Orange County gyms are navigating a new normal. Temperature checks, face coverings, and COVID questionnaires are among the new safety measures implemented at Orangetheory Fitness, Chapel Hill. “When members come in, an employee will greet them at the door,” said Brandon Kemps, regional recruiter and human resources for Orangetheory Growth Partners (OTGP). “The employee will scan their temperature, make sure they have a face mask on, and then ask them if they have any covid like symptoms.” Following the CDC guidelines, face masks are required for anyone who enters the studio but can be removed when actively engaging in exercise distanced at least six feet from their neighbor. Orangetheory’s smaller class sizes and boutique fitness model allows for more control over the necessary sanitation practices and mandated social distancing. “At no point at Orangetheory is there going to be an open gym, with people coming in and out,” explained Kemps. “Everything is structured, regimented, and designed to keep our members and employees feeling as safe as possible.”
OTGP, a family run business, owns and operates numerous Orangetheory Fitness studios across North Carolina, Iowa, and Indiana. The COVID-19 closure orders affected all locations, forcing the company to freeze all memberships and furlough roughly 90 percent of its employees. “When we closed, one of the big things we wanted to focus on was engagement,” explained Kemps. “Engagement with our staff that we had furloughed and our members that were no longer able to come and utilize the facilities.” Throughout the closure, classes were offered to employees, providing a 60-minute workout and allowing them to practice the new safety procedures. “Coaches could still take classes and feel they were still apart of the Orangetheory fitness community,” said Kemps. Facebook Live, Zoom workouts, and outdoor classes kept the OTGP coaches connected to the members while being closed.
Although shutdown orders were straightforward among North Carolina, Iowa, and Indiana, reopening has been anything but simple. “Our studios all shut down on the same day in March,” explained Kemps. “The timeline for reopening was much shorter in Iowa and Indiana. We opened our Indiana studios in May and then our Iowa studios the first week of June.” After multiple delays, gyms and indoor fitness facilities in North Carolina were given the green light to reopen at limited capacity in September. “[In North Carolina], we were continuously under the impression that we could be opening up every two or three weeks, which made it really difficult from a planning standpoint,” said Kemps. “In Indiana and Iowa, we got the notification that we were going to open, and those timelines were spot on.” Exercising caution, OTGP decided on a staggered approach, reopening a few North Carolina locations at a time. “We only wanted to open half initially to get a sense of where we stood and the member return rate,” explained Kemps. While many OTGP studios are seeing an increase in member participation, others struggle. “There is a perception among the community that gyms are high risk,” said Kemps. “There is a high population of [members] that work at the hospital or work in teaching, and their employers have requested they not go to high-risk areas. We have been told that, based on contact tracing, gyms are not part of the problem when it comes to community spread.” Working with state health officials, the staff of Orangetheory remain dedicated to their safety protocols and have begun educating members on ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Orange County, the Meadowmont, Chapel Hill facility is currently open, while the Timberlyne Shopping Center, Chapel Hill location, remains closed. “Our Meadowmont studio’s attendance continues to grow, and plans to reopen Timberlyne draws near,” said Kemps.
While the future of things is still uncertain, Kemps and the OTGP studios remain focused on moving forward and providing a safe environment for their members. “We want to continue to monitor the situation and see how things progress. Taking it day by day, week by week,” said Kemps. “For us, it’s focusing on making sure our members and employees feel safe when they come to an Orangetheory Fitness facility.”