It’s every gym goer’s worst nightmare: being alerted to the fact that someone with COVID-19 has been working out next to you. However, for the team at Les Mills Takapuna in Auckland, New Zealand, this event was one they had been anticipating for months. When they learned that an infected member had attended three group fitness classes within the space of 18 hours at the start of September, they had an action plan prepared and ready to deploy.
Due to the effectiveness of their preparation and actions, not a single further case was discovered, despite 86 members coming into close contact with the infected member. The club was able to remain open, and members could keep working out. So what was it that made containing the virus so successful? And how can you keep yourself safe when attending the gym?
The club was well prepared
“We took the pandemic very seriously early on; we started talking about it back in January which meant we were getting organized in February,” says Dione Forbes-Ryrie, Managing Director for the Les Mills New Zealand chain of gyms. “We started planning so early that Exercise New Zealand, our bank, and even our auditor thought we were being a bit over the top!"
“The reason we did take it so seriously was that many of us had worked in the business when the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake occurred, which meant 24 percent of our assets were in lockdown for some 12 months. We knew what our world looked like when things really go pear-shaped. When COVID-19 came onto our radar we immediately thought, have we got another Christchurch coming at us? We established a critical incident team and started training up different working groups so that we were ready when and if lockdown did hit.”
Ironically, Les Mills New Zealand was already planning to run a practice drill of a case of COVID-19 case in another branch of the gym chain the week that the real-life case was discovered in Takapuna. That meant that plans were already in place and draft communications had been prepared for a variety of scenarios.
“Relatively speaking, this case was pretty clear cut, but it could have gone either way if we didn't have the processes in place,” says Guy Needham, Head of Marketing and Sales for Les Mills New Zealand. “Had we not planned ahead in advance, this could really have gone quite badly, especially when you consider that the person visited the club three times within 18 hours.”
Deep cleaning measures were implemented
Naturally in these times, some of us are cautious about returning to exercise facilities, particularly when the facility in question has had an actual case of the virus come to the club. However, when Les Mills members saw how seriously the club was taking the threat of the virus, they felt reassured to continue attending.
“When we came out of the first lockdown, our attendance immediately dropped to around the 60 percent mark, but it was back up to 95 percent after three weeks,” says Dione. “People started to see what precautions we’d put in place in terms of social distancing and cleaning protocols, and they felt safe to come back. Partly that was from our own social media posts, but a lot of it was word of mouth – the braver members coming back first and then telling their friends they felt safe."
“As soon as I walked through the doors and saw all the hygiene and distancing measures in place, I felt totally confident.”
Les Mills Takapuna member Joanne Buchanan was initially a little apprehensive, but those worries quickly eased. “As soon as I walked through the doors and saw all the hygiene and distancing measures in place, I felt totally confident.” She has been attending live classes with no concerns. “Absolutely nothing compares to the buzz you get from a live class – I thrive on the energy of others and push myself so much harder.”
“What’s come through time and again in our member feedback has been how much they appreciate the precautions that we’re taking," says Dione. "This ranges from the regular cleaning they see at the gym, as well as the measures we ask them to take: bringing a sweat towel with them, ensuring that they clean all equipment before and after use, and of course that they stay away if they are experiencing any symptoms of the virus.”
Social distancing measures are in place
In order to comply with social distancing requirements, many classes have been modified to avoid too much movement and 15-minute windows introduced between classes to allow for cleaning. In the cycle studio, some bikes have been removed to ensure there is adequate space between exercisers.
“I’m teaching LES MILLS GRIT from the stage, rather than floor coaching the class,” says Les Mills Takapuna Instructor Livi Kitson. “The 15 minutes between classes gives members more than enough time to wipe down equipment and set up for the next class, and the dots on the floor seem to be doing their job with everyone spread out in their own space.”
I’m worried about attending the gym, how can I keep myself safe?
The pandemic has been a timely reminder that being fit and healthy is one of our best defenses against becoming unwell. So what is Dione’s advice for those of us who are feeling nervous to return to the gym?
“Take some personal responsibility for staying safe when you train. At Les Mills we have a lot of cleaning protocols in place, but we are also encouraging all of our members to use the antiviral sprays around the club to clean the equipment before and after use. If you want to be sure that something you want to use is safe, then the best way is to clean it yourself.”
You can read more about why getting back to the gym is so important here. You can also find out more about why working out with others works wonders and learn how exercise can help combat any COVID-induced stress and anxiety.
When this COVID-19 case was reported by a member at Les Mills gym in Takapuna 86 people were recognized as having been in close contact with the infected member and immediately went into self-isolation. Of these 86 people, all returned a negative result when tested for the virus. Due to the diligence of the club in already conducting extensive deep cleans at the time of the incident, the local authority advised that the club was able to remain open. Despite this, the company also conducted an additional full deep clean of the club, followed by an anti-viral fogging treatment.