PLATTSBURGH — On the heels of the news that SUNY Plattsburgh found zero cases of COVID-19 in its second round of pool tests among on-campus students, Memorial Hall’s Fitness Center announced its reopening Sept. 12.
The Fitness Center has been closed since March, but the center that was reintroduced to students Sept. 14 was a much different one than they’re used to, thanks to the new health and safety protocols in place that are meant to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“The students are really appreciative,” Fitness Center Director Matt Salvatore said. “They like all the protocols we have in place, how serious we are about making sure everybody is following the guidelines.
"Some of the students aren’t entirely comfortable with the masks, holding them down under their nose. We have to remind them, so not everybody is happy about that, but we remind them that it’s a New York State mandate as well as a health mandate. The only way we can stay open is if everyone is complying with that.”
Everyone in the center has to wear a mask, even while exercising, as well as stay six feet apart. Some equipment has been removed from the center to give students more space.
Fitness Center staff monitors students as they work out to make sure they follow the new protocols. In addition, every student who comes into the center picks up a bottle of disinfectant and roll of paper towels. They carry them around as they work out and wipe down each piece of equipment before and after they use it. The center also shuts down from 2 to 3 p.m. each day it’s open to deep clean the facility.
But before the center could reopen its doors, it had to pass an inspection that other facilities in town such as Planet Fitness, Eclipse Fitness and the YMCA underwent from the Department of Health. The Fitness Center’s inspection was Sept. 11.
The department looked for the Fitness Center to have appropriate signage in the facility that promotes health safety, a plan in place to allow only 33% occupancy of the facility, which would be 33 people in the center’s case, and it also wanted to know that it used a screening process.
The center relies on SUNY Plattsburgh’s screening process of a daily online form students must submit before accessing their school account as its own screening process.
The form asks students four questions similar to other COVID-19 screening questions, such as if the student has tested positive for COVID-19, whether they’ve traveled out of state recently or if they’ve experienced a list of symptoms.
Before entering, the center asks students if they’ve completed the daily form, if they answered no to all four questions and that they swipe their SUNY Plattsburgh ID. The swipe is used for contact tracing purposes and is placed on file for 28 days.
Salvatore has received a positive response from students since the center’s reopening, but he also said it’s taken some students some time to adjust to the new protocols.
For students, the center’s reopening is a welcome addition to a semester that has included the closing of many locations and venues on campus.
“We’ve heard some feedback from students that there’s nothing for them to do. They sort of felt they were holed up in their dorm rooms, and they couldn’t really go out and do too much activity-wise. So this was an important step for us to open up,” Salvatore said
“So it’s not only physical health, it’s mental health. We keep hearing about how much anxiety, stress and frustration that students carry around these days, so it’s super important to have these opportunities available for them.”
Senior marketing and business administration major Dylan Ellis transferred to SUNY Plattsburgh last year and used it four to five days a week before the center was closed in March.
“Since everything got shut down in March, it’s been hard to try to get motivated and work out, so it was a struggle and a pretty boring summer,” he said. “Then finally coming back here, one of the hopes was that the Fitness Center would open up eventually, and I’ve been here every day so far.”
It didn’t take Ellis too much time to get accustomed to the new protocols in place, which weren’t much different than what he would do normally, with the exception of wearing a mask; he always tries to keep things clean because he worked at a fitness center before transferring to SUNY Plattsburgh, and he felt it was irritating when people didn’t clean their equipment.
“Sanitation is key to keep this thing open and alive,” Ellis said, “so whatever I gotta do to keep this open, I’m doing because it’s really the only good thing about campus right now.”
Haily Dang, a senior finance and economics major, used to go to the Fitness Center almost every day before it was closed.
“I had a routine. I woke up and then came here, so then after that was gone, I had no routine and no way to work out,” she said.
Another issue the center had to navigate as it operates this semester is its budget, which was a large loss of revenue last semester and this fall.
SUNY Plattsburgh credited about a 50% refund for the $85 mandatory recreation fee to all eligible full-time students last spring. Meanwhile, the center continued to pay its student staff for six weeks following the shutdown. On top of that, SUNY Plattsburgh also decided to charge eligible students 50% of the recreation fee this semester. The loss of revenue required the center to make adjustments while also ensuring it is maintaining a safe environment for students.
“Those things combined sort of put us in a difficult situation budgetarily,” Salvatore said. “So as a result, we’ve been working with student interns, staffing facility, we’ve had some coaching staff pitching in because they haven’t been fully engaged with coaching because of the decision the SUNYAC made not to compete this fall.”
To save money, the center did not hold a summer session like it usually would and it now operates 50 hours a week, not 100 like it did in semesters past. Despite the budgetary constraints, Salvatore is confident that the Fitness Center can remain a safe environment for the rest of the semester.
“We have still provided and created an environment that is safe as possible for each person coming in to exercise and to address their physical fitness-related needs,” Salvatore said.