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Coronavirus In Ohio: Gyms And Fitness Centers Reopen

Jeph Lawson at Powerhouse Gym.
Nick Evans
Jeph Lawson at Powerhouse Gym.

State officials cleared gyms to reopen around Ohio on Tuesday. Many are still working out how to do so safely, but at least one facility in downtown Columbus already began welcoming members back.

There’s a large Plexiglas sneeze guard on the front desk at Powerhouse Gym, and signs on the door telling patrons to sanitize their hands on the way in.

Jeph Lawson’s big red beard is poking out of a light blue mask with cartoon ponies on it. Lawson is the gym’s operations manager, which, he says with a chuckle, means he does everything.

It’s not quite noon, and Lawson explains it’s a bit slower than usual.

“We are waiting for this evening to see how it goes,” he says. “Because typically, Monday and Tuesday evening are our busiest times. Everyone feels guilty for what they did over the weekend, they maybe want to start their workout program on Monday or start the new diet, you know.”

To prepare for the return of patrons, the gym switched to a new sanitizer that kills germs more quickly. Lawson says most members are on top of keeping the equipment clean.

“They’re pretty good, they know what they’re doing,” he says. “But if we see a member not properly sanitizing the equipment, of course we’re going to go over and let them know, and then we’ll sanitize it and say, 'If you could do it this way, that would be super helpful to everyone.'"

In addition to enhanced hygiene, the gym removed a number of machines to provide more space on the floor. They've rearranged things so there’s a single entrance and exit for the gym floor.

The showers are closed, classes are suspended, and the gym is reducing the number of members who can work out at one time.

Tommy Bruder, a regular, walks in with a large duffle bag slung over his shoulder. He says he had to get creative since the shutdown order took effect, and he started working out in a park.

“I brought a 45-pound plate, a sledge hammer and some bands,” he says, “and then I made an old wheelbarrow full of concrete, and that’s what got done for three months.”

While Bruder rubs sanitizer on his hand, one of the staffers behind the front desk teases that he needs to sanitize his hands again.

“It feels great to get back to the gym and not run around the park like a lunatic dragging weights across the grass and stuff like that and making homemade stuff in the backyard,” Bruder says. “I miss everybody here. It’s a great gym and I hope everybody starts coming back out.”

Last week, a Lake County judge ruled that Ohio's continued shutdown of gyms was "oppressive" and "arbitrary." Although the ruling only applied to Lake County, some gyms in Columbus went ahead and reopened before Tuesday.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.