How Two Gym Owners Handled COVID-19 Outbreaks

January 14, 2021 by
Credit: Courtesy of Nick Beal
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In late 2020, Dave Finlay faced every gym owner’s fear: a handful of members at his affiliate, CrossFit in the D, tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s going to happen to all of us,” Finlay says, giving a step-by-step breakdown of his next steps:

  • Finlay jokes that he probably did everything “too correctly,” providing tests for their staff, contacting all members, and taking the week off to make sure no returning members showed symptoms. 
  • “We shut the gym down ourselves, contacted everyone, did a thorough cleaning, and we gave everyone the week to say ‘Hey, you should go get tested,’” he said.  

Nick Beal, owner of CrossFit Casco Bay and CrossFit Casco Bay Undaunted in Maine went through a similar situation when three members at CrossFit Undaunted tested positive for the virus.

Like CrossFit in the D, Beal warned his members of the possible exposure, encouraged them to get tests, traced to the best of his ability, and deep-cleaned the gym. He says that because they were already “doing everything right,” according to a call with the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC), they could keep running business as usual, without a shutdown. 

Worth noting: To other gym owners, Finlay says his experience should act as a “cautionary tale.” 

  • “We shut our gym down, on our own, without being told to do it,” he explains. “We sent all this information to the board of health, and weeks later, after everyone was quarantined, they came and shut us down.”

Beal felt similar frustrations with the CDC.

  • “I had a 20-minute phone conversation with them, and a couple hours later they were on the news saying we had an outbreak at our facility,” he continues. “I was like, the only reason you know about this is because these are people in our community, but we don’t know where they got it.”

Beal went on to say that the experience was “a little discouraging.” His gym “outbreak,” which can be traced to one individual who brought it to the gym from a hunting trip, came after a big spike in Maine numbers. Beal says when people saw it on the news, they “started freaking out about it.”

  • The situation left a lot of responsibility on this facility, trying to figure out best practices because there really wasn’t a set pathway,” Beal says. 

He felt his situation to be unfair from a small-business standpoint:

  •  “We have the ability to contact trace because of our small, intimate class size. It allows us to create a safer environment for our members, because they know exactly what’s going on,” he says. “But also, it puts us at a little more exposure, because it’s not expected of a larger facility to do that.” 
  • “I was glad I had the information to inform my members, but they had to announce that there was an outbreak in our facility,” he continues.

Membership: Both gyms were transparent regarding the outbreak, which Beal says only hurt his ability to retain new members.

  • “It was one of those things where it was super scary at first to figure out how you want to deal with it, it’s like ‘Oh shit, how is everyone going to react,’ but then you’re understanding that your members health is priority number one,” he says. 
  • Most people were just happy we let them know, and we encouraged them all to talk to their primary care provider and see what recommendation was,” Beal continues.
Credit: Courtesy of Dave Finlay

Finlay echoes this sentiment, adding that he’s spent “thousands of dollars” to make sure that his members are getting the cleanest, safest environment possible. 

  • “I couldn’t even tell you how many thousands of dollars we’ve spent to try to keep things clean: buying equipment to clean things, buying masks, heating the place while the garage doors are open. The people who are coming, they’re getting a clean environment [and] a ventilated environment,” he says.  

The bottom line: Finlay and Beal were both following their respective state guidelines for high-intensity workouts – distancing, masks when appropriate, and so on – when members at their gyms tested positive. Both owners handled the situation responsibly and are back in the gym.

  • “Now, people understand that it really can be coming from anywhere, it’s not as much ‘Oh I got it at this place,’” Beal says, noting that even though his facility has been blamed for the outbreak, community spread was high in his area at the time. “We’re definitely seeing our leads pick up and people wanting to come in.” 

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