Economic fitness of employees behind reopening of Summit Athletic Club with precautions

ST. GEORGE — Concern over the financial well-being of the employees of Summit Athletic Club amid a continuing economic shutdown has prompted its reopening with sanitation and social distancing measures in place.

The entrance to Summit Athletic Club’s River Road location in St. George, Utah, April 22, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Joe Levine, founder and CEO of Summit Athletic Club, said that when he voluntarily closed the St. George fitness centers on March 18 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he could live with it. Gov. Gary Herbert had just recommended against large gatherings, and the move was proactive, considering it was a week before the governor’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” recommendations.

But a month later, Levine said he had trouble living with the effects the closures were having on his employees. That, he said, is the reason why Summit went ahead and reopened some of its services at one location this week. 

“What I couldn’t live with anymore was some employees not having anything except hope for something good to happen,” Levine told St. George News. “We decided that if we opened, at least some could have a choice to come to work, or if they felt safer staying at home and had to stay away to take care of themselves, that’s good, too.”

Summit reopened its River Road location at 1532 E. 1450 South Street to members only on Monday, and by Wednesday morning, the parking lot was nearly full. A blue-tarp temporary awning stands at the entrance where employees in masks check patrons and have them wash their hands before entering the building.

Sink placed as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus outside the doors at the Summit Athletic Club River Road location in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Summit Athletic Club, St. George News

Inside, Summit said they have discs marked on the floor designed to keep members six feet apart at check-in. The saunas, locker rooms, indoor pools and Jacuzzis are still closed, but machines and equipment are available, as well as pickleball courts.

“We don’t feel we can keep people as safe if we reopen everything,” Levine said. “Bottom line is we are going to need our members’ help to keep our distances and everyone safe working together.”

Summit says that before opening each day, equipment will be scrubbed, cleaned, bleached and sanitized, down to the last dumbbell.

Summit isn’t breaking any law by forging ahead with a soft reopening ahead of the state recommendation that all fitness centers and gyms remain closed through May 1. Most of the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives are recommendations, rather than orders.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the closures have always been voluntary.

“We’ve had guidelines for gyms and fitness centers,” Heaton said. “If they do want to be open, we have guidelines, and those that are open, from what we have seen, have followed them.”  

Social distancing reminders at Summit Athletic Club in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Summit Athletic Club, St. George News

Heaton also pointed out that as the May 1 date approaches when the governor will need to decide if some businesses are no longer under the recommendations, the signs are that Southern Utah is on track for a move into the “Orange” or moderate-risk phase of reopening businesses as stated in the joint Legislature-governor “Utah Leads Together 2.0” plan released last Friday. 

For gyms that choose to reopen under the Orange phase, the state recommends that they follow space and cleaning guidance, which Summit appears to be following now. 

“We have been planning for weeks how to open safely,” Levine said. “I’m confident things will work out, and we might help some of our staff feel better, too.”

Since Summit Athletic Club voluntarily closed its centers on March 18 to deal with the public health emergency, its employees have been coming back to Levine with stories of threats to their economic well-being.

Levine said his employees were hoping for full unemployment benefits. However, some ended up not being eligible because they worked a second job.

“That seems crazy wrong,” Levine said. “In my opinion, they are paying the unemployment insurance and working twice as hard in two different places. They shouldn’t be excluded.”

With the soft opening, some employees are back to work, but not all.

Cars parked outside Summit Athletic Club’s River Road location in St. George, Utah, April 22, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Some are really happy to come back and get some income. Some are staying on the unemployment because we can’t do classes and other things yet,” Levine said. 

Some of those employees will have the opportunity to come back shortly, as the slow soft reopening will include the return of fitness classes at the River Road location on April 27.

Basketball and tennis courts will be used to allow the classes to be spread out enough to allow six feet of distance between participants.

Also on April 27, child care for patrons will return while they work out in the center, with three rooms limited to nine children and one caregiver each.

From there, Levine said if the River Road location gets too busy, the other two Summit locations on Sunset Boulevard and Bluff Street will soft open as well.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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