As vaccine distribution expands throughout Orange County, local gym owners say they have seen an increase in the number of people coming in to work out.
O2 Fitness in Carrboro closed for six months after lockdown began. Although it reopened in September, Dalton Shaw, the gym's general manager, only relaunched group exercise classes in early April.
Forty percent of Orange County's population is now fully vaccinated, according to the NCDHHS. Shaw said with this increased surge of immunity, the amount of people inside his facility has gone up substantially.
“There has been an increase this month from the 65+ demographic into our gym,” Shaw said. “A lot of people were unfreezing their memberships to come back this month. We have even more slated to unfreeze their accounts in May.”
Tommy Morgan, a fitness coach at Orangetheory Fitness, also said his gym has seen a similar increase.
He said his close relationships with members made him realize numerous people wanted to come back into the studio, but they were physically unable to return due to health concerns. Morgan said the vaccine has been transformative in bringing these members back in.
“This is where I really realized how many people either live or come in contact with immunocompromised people throughout their day,” Morgan said. “It was really an eye-opener for me.”
Morgan said Orangetheory never pressured members who were uncomfortable being in an enclosed space. He said the corporate offices waived the $15 membership freeze fee in order to accommodate its customer base.
When the studios were able to reopen their doors in the fall, Morgan said his gym maximized its safety precautions in order to create a safe environment for its members, which continues to be true as vaccinations spread.
Serena Hutcheson, a local resident and UNC parent, started going back into the gym as COVID-19 restrictions eased and allowed larger gatherings indoors. Hutcheson is a member of Club Pilates and the Sweat Lab, both located in Chapel Hill.
Hutcheson said she has never felt nervous about her health and safety while working out in the gym. She said she wears a mask in the facilities and wipes down her equipment after exercising.
Hutcheson additionally adapted to at-home methods of working out throughout the pandemic, which have become central to her exercise routine.
“I purchased a Peloton bicycle for home use in July 2020,” Hutcheson said. “We also belong to several streaming subscriptions. I also walk 4-5 times a week.”
Morgan said residents who are returning to the gyms have experienced immediate improvements to their mental health since they were able to get out of their homes for an hour each day and gain a sense of clarity.
Ellen Pruss, a sophomore at UNC, said her experience going to Planet Fitness in Chapel Hill also has enhanced her mental health amid the pandemic. Pruss said she began her membership in January when vaccine distribution took off in Orange County.
“Since being at school, I noticed it has helped me deal with all the stress and anxiety that comes along with classes,” Pruss said.
Pruss said the safety precautions that gyms are taking in light of COVID-19 continually have made her feel safe in this exercise environment. She said she has to wear a mask at all times, and the machines are separated so that members are far from one another.
As vaccinations continue to spread throughout Orange County, Shaw and Morgan both said their gyms will continue to maintain their COVID-19 precautions in order to create safe environments for the community.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.