HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The beginning of a new year is usually the most crowded time of the year for gyms, as people make resolutions to get healthy. As the coronavirus continues to take its toll, that is not the case in 2021.
Ethan and Renee Chandler have run Phoenix Fitness and Martial Arts in Henrico County for more than five years.
They take pride in offering personal and group training to a tight-knit group of members.
"It's not just our business. It's our friendship, it's our community," Ethan said.
In March, the pandemic forced the Chandlers to shut down the gym, and they spent months making hard decisions about how to reopen safely.
"We have to have someone at the front desk all the time now checking people in. We have to have all the masks for our staff," Ethan explained. "We have to have hand sanitizer, extra cleaning, and we are running laundry to wash the cleaning cloths and towels multiple times day."
Additional changes include tools for social distancing and new equipment for training such as dummies.
They say these changes are driving costs up by 20%. At the same time, their revenue is cut due to limited class sizes.
The Chandlers believe the consequences are worth it.
"It's the right thing to do. We got to take care of people," Ethan said. "People are coming here for their physical and mental health, so to put them at risk of the virus would be absolutely the wrong thing to do."
Meanwhile, an epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health said outbreaks in gyms have been consistent throughout the pandemic.
Rebekah Butterfield, who studies COVID-19 outbreaks, said gyms pose an added layer of risk. When you're working out, your heart rate is up and you're taking in more oxygen.
"Think of it like a viral fog where your respiration is and anytime that fog overlaps someone else's fog you are just really increasing that risk of inhaling multiple viral particles that could infect you," Butterfield said.
Butterfield said it's hard to pinpoint the exact level of risk for gyms overall because each facility is different.
She said you can measure safety yourself by considering these three things: physical distancing, masking, and cleaning protocols.
As Coronavirus cases rise across Virginia, the Chandlers continue to invest in safety.
While navigating the pandemic has been their greatest challenge, the life partners of 30 years say leaning on each other is what gets them through.
"Having a partner that you trust and are on the same page with is what helped us be so successful," Renee said.