Restaurants, salons and other businesses in the Omaha area have slowly started the process of reopening.

Now, some local gyms are preparing to open their doors again.

But with dozens of new COVID-19 cases still being reported daily, some local gymgoers might wonder if it’s the right time to head back.

It’s not an easy answer, said Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, an infectious disease specialist and critical care physician with Nebraska Medicine.

“People are going to make their individual decisions,” Cawcutt said. “It’s not that we don’t have the virus anymore.”

Because of the number of people, extra moisture in the air and different ventilation systems, gyms could have the potential to spread illnesses, Cawcutt said. In addition, she said, heavy breathing and group settings might lead to a higher risk of the novel coronavirus spreading through the air.

Before they head back to the gym, Cawcutt advises exercisers to question gym staff and management.

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Hayley Bloom does chin ups at the YMCA.

Some things to ask:

» Will hours of operation change?

» Will gymgoers be able to schedule workout times so the number of people in the gym is limited?

» How many people will be allowed in at one time?

» What’s available for gymgoers to use to clean machines? What type of hand hygiene stations will be available?

» Will people be screened for symptoms before entering?

» Will any partitions be installed between cardio machines?

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Monte Clark, a personal trainer, wipes down a bench and dumbbells at the Charles E. Lakin YMCA in Council Bluffs.

Bill McBride, who owns the Arizona-based consulting firm BMC3, said he has been speaking to gym owners daily about the process of reopening. Many plans to reopen hinge on state requirements, said McBride, who also was an editor on a publication for the American College of Sports Medicine.

“The industry’s been proactive around this, but there’s still no one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Gym owners need to keep members and staff safe. That could mean signs on the floor reminding people about social distancing, adding sanitation stations and taking lockers out of service so people aren’t right next to each other, McBride said.

Staff members should be armed with information for patrons who might want to know what specific protocols, cleaning solutions or plans are in place. They also should be prepared for potential conflict if gym members try to police one another, he said.

Before heading back, McBride said, gymgoers should factor in if they’re under the weather or if they have underlying health conditions. Otherwise, he said, gyms have been “ahead of the curve” when it comes to cleanliness.

“We’re not going to live in our houses forever. We’re going to go to restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores and concerts,” McBride said. “The gym is really no different than a lot of those other things with regard to risks.”

For those ready to get back to the gym, Cawcutt stressed the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene and staying home when sick.

Gymgoers should avoid using machines right next to other exercisers. In addition to wiping down machinery after each use, people should wash their hands or use sanitizer before and after using each piece of equipment. Some gymgoers might consider wearing a mask during workouts, if possible.

Maintaining mental and physical health is important. Some people may not be able to squeeze in workouts at home.

“If getting there means you work toward being healthy, that’s worth weighing in,” Cawcutt said. “But recognize that going anywhere in public, especially in a scenario where there’s more exposure to unmasked people, certainly carries some risk.”

Gymgoers should think “cautiously and carefully,” Cawcutt said. “We are not out of the woods from this yet.”

For those who aren’t quite ready to get back inside the gym, they can turn to at-home workouts or online workout programs.

Although states have moved toward reopening, people can’t go right back to the way things were “pre-COVID,” Cawcutt said.

“Recognize there is a new normal,” she said. “There are things we can do to still mitigate risks for ourselves and the people around us. None of us wants to inadvertently make someone else sick. How we do things effectively and safely for everybody is what it comes down to at this point.”

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