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by Jorgelina Manna-Rea
Less than a month after shutting down all of its indoor facilities due to a COVID-19 outbreak, USF Recreation and Wellness resumed operations Monday with enhanced cleaning procedures and stricter regulations to mitigate the risks of spreading the virus.
The decision to reopen prompted students to voice opinions that either criticized or praised the latest move toward resuming regular operations.
“I think it is great that the Recreation and Wellness facilities are reopening … no one is forcing anyone to go to the gym but the option should be there for those that do wish to go to the gym,” said sophomore psychology student Alexia Bianchi. “I will definitely be using both of these facilities.”
Then, there are those who are choosing to avoid the facilities entirely to decrease their risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
“I never visited and still won’t because it’s just too dangerous,” said sophomore nursing student Ariana Leit. “[I would] rather work out at my apartment’s gym when I know it’s me and maybe one other person or just workout in my apartment.”
After six of its employees tested positive for COVID-19 in September, Recreation and Wellness had the facilities cleaned by a team from USF’s Facilities Management who have been trained to properly spray down the equipment with “high-end” gear.
“When we closed down we actually had both facilities sprayed within 24 hours,” said Director of Recreation and Wellness Jay Souza. “After we closed we brought in the university specialists and they had their electrostatic sprayers.”
For some students, it’s the variability of COVID-19 that’s concerning, not whether precautionary measures are enacted.
“I knew people were going to actually go to the gym regardless of the potential of being afflicted with the virus, so it wasn’t necessarily a shock that the Rec opened and six employees were found positive,” said senior chemical engineering student Manny Mercado. “However, it’s still disappointing that there are people that aren’t taking this seriously considering how sporadic and uncertain the virus could affect us.”
However, other students think that it would be more responsible for the Recreation and Wellness facilities to reopen under different circumstances.
“I don’t think it’s safe to allow students somewhere where they know [COVID-19] is,” said senior health sciences student Molly Carr. “I think all staff should be tested because if [six] people have it then there’s probably a few more staff members who have it.”
Recreation and Wellness has implemented preventive measures to help keep COVID-19 out of its facilities, including randomized testing for its staff and a reduced capacity.
When the Rec Center and the FIT initially reopened after closing in March, their capacity was at 25%, with around 1,000 people in the facilities allowed per day. Students and staff were required to abide by USF’s guidelines for Phase II of reopening, including following certain cleaning protocols and reducing hours of operation. Now, the facilities will allow approximately 800 people into the facilities per day, according to Souza.
“We have reduced capacity in both the FIT and the Rec Center just a little bit more so that way we can make sure people are more distant,” said Souza.
Souza said one of the challenges that staff at the facilities have faced since their initial reopening in August is making sure its members are 6 feet apart at all times.
“If [two students are] on two machines right next to each other of course they’re going to kind of come together and try to have a conversation,” said Souza. “I would say that [is], I want to say ‘challenging,’ but it is difficult. I think people just want to socialize, that’s part of the fun of being at the Rec. Unfortunately, you have to keep distant.”
Once inside the facilities, students are required to keep the mandatory 6-foot distance between each other as well as keep masks on at all times while in the facilities, whether they are using equipment or not, according to Souza.
“No one is forcing you to go, if you are scared don’t go, but if you are aware of the ‘risk’ and want to you can,” said sophomore chemistry student Catherine Contino regarding the Rec Center’s reopening.
If people aren’t comfortable visiting the Recreation and Wellness facilities in person, Michael Coccagnia, Recreation and Wellness’ assistant director of marketing and membership, said Recreation and Wellness will continue to host virtual programs and fitness challenges through its Instagram account as well as its website.
But Souza emphasized that the facilities are open and available to those who miss the gym or feel that virtual programs aren’t enough.
“I know we’re excited to open, I know the staff is excited, I’m very excited to offer this to the students again,” said Souza. “We took a very proactive road before to shut down to make sure we looked out for the best interest of the students, and we feel as if we’ve taken proper precautions, put some measures in place to be able to provide the service again so we look forward to it.”