The COVID-19 outbreak has done immense harm, not just to affected individuals, but also to the many businesses that have been forced to shutter during mandated stay-at-home orders. Industries that depend on in-person interactions have been among those hardest hit: bars, restaurants, theaters, retailers and, yes, gyms and fitness centers.
When this crisis finally ends, members of fitness facilities will want to be certain that their clubs are not only free of the coronavirus, but of all manner of pathogens. Ensuring that your facility is ready to meet that challenge will help reassure members — and staff — that their environment is safe, providing peace of mind and clearing a path toward normalcy.
Says Bruce Sherman, president of cleaning supplies provider GymValet, "Clean equipment and a visible show of concern by putting the cleaning supplies right in front of people, however you do it, tells that person, 'My club cares about me. This is the kind of club I want to be a member of.' "
Here's some advice for keeping your club as safe as possible.
Know thy product
According to Scott Jarden, president of disinfectant manufacturer and supplier Kennedy Industries, law requires that any product that claims to kill a particular pathogen must be verified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"In the case of disinfectants, you're saying it kills viruses and bacteria. So the EPA has to approve those products, and there's very, very extensive testing required to be able to claim that you kill coronavirus or something else," Jarden says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2. EPA lists disinfectants for use against that particular pathogen, and others have been qualified under an "Emerging Viral Pathogen Claim," which means a given product has proven efficacy against a harder-to-kill virus.
"Anybody understands the EPA certification of any product or solution is based on very strict control standards that must be met in order for this product to be EPA-certified," says Sherman.
Jarden says that the best way to learn whether your product is effective against a particular pathogen is to simply read the label. Not only will the label contain information about which pathogens a particular product neutralizes, but it will also provide helpful instructions on how to properly use it.
"The label specifically tells you all the things that it kills and what the different steps are — meaning how it's mixed, how it's used, the dwell time," Jarden says. "All that information is provided by the EPA-approved label that is on your container."
Education and proper procedure
A CloroxPro resource guide suggests that education is another key tool toward preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. According to Jarden, one silver lining amidst the outbreak is that the public is finally getting a much-needed education in public health and proper procedures for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting.
"I think that the education that the general public is getting from COVID-19 is the proper way of keeping yourself safe and healthy," Jarden says, adding that many people have changed their hand-washing routines and techniques after realizing they'd been doing it wrong — or at least not thoroughly enough — for years.
For facility staff, particularly those charged with regular cleaning of high-touch areas and equipment, proper training can help slow and prevent the transmission of disease.
One key thing that facilities might fail to consider is a given product's dwell time — that is, the amount of time a disinfectant must be present on a surface before it effectively kills pathogens. Many disinfectants have dwell times in the range of five to 10 minutes, and if your facility isn't adhering to those dwell times, "More than likely, you're not even doing the job you thought you were doing," says Jarden, "and you're just kind of wasting time and money thinking you're doing something.
"When this thing all calms down, members are going to realize there's a difference between this product and that product, and there's a difference between how you use it. It's not like cleaning your mirrors in your bathroom. You have to follow procedures for things to work properly."
Encourage healthy habits
The best opportunity for busy facilities to properly and thoroughly disinfect is when the facility is closed and janitorial staff comes in to execute their duties. Still, Sherman says a once-daily deep clean really only benefits the first person in the gym after that cleaning is completed.
Throughout the day, Sherman advises that members do their part to the best of their abilities. "Cleaning is a team sport," he says.
To that end, he advises that clubs adopt policies around cleaning and encourage members to adhere to them.
"Have written policies up on the wall with what you'd like to achieve, and enforce those policies," Sherman says. "What you're seeing is a lot of people are putting signage up that says clean your piece of equipment before and after you use it."
Sherman recommends keeping supplies within reach of members. "The chance of them complying with the facility's request exponentially decreases for every extra foot they have to walk to get the supplies and bring them back," he says. "It's human nature. Convenience breeds compliance."
Members can take matters into their own hands in other ways, as well. Wearing proper clothing — that is, clothing that doesn't directly expose the skin to surfaces — and maintaining good hygiene can help to limit member exposure.
Says Sherman, "When you're in the gym or you're in a community setting, especially in the time of viruses and flu season, wipe off your surfaces, but don't put your hands in your eyes, your nose, your mouth, and when you walk out of the gym, put on some hand sanitizer or wash your hands. That's just good gym hygiene."
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Proper products, education create a healthy gym environment." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.