Gyms, Fitness Studios, Movie Theaters and Museums Can Reopen on May 15

Gov. Bullock’s updated Phase 1 guidelines require strict capacity limitations and other restrictions

By Beacon Staff
Weights at a fitness studio. Beacon File Photo

Gov. Steve Bullock announced today additional Phase 1 reopening guidelines that will give gyms and gym pools, fitness studios, movie theaters and museums the option to reopen beginning May 15 as long as they adhere to criteria limiting capacity, requiring social distancing and imposing thorough sanitation requirements.

Those entities were previously barred from reopening during Phase 1 under the governor’s original plan. Other places of assembly will remain closed, including performance theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, bingo halls, music halls and pools that are not located in gyms or licensed public accommodations.

Bullock’s office said the guidelines were developed with input from local public health officials.

“In consultation with public health experts, we have determined that these businesses can carefully reopen under strict capacity, social distancing, and sanitation guidelines,” Bullock said in a May 7 statement. “As Montana continues to aggressively manage the virus and we move forward with the plan to reopen, I am again reminding Montanans that social distancing is vital to continue curbing the virus. All of us must do our part to stay open and stay on a path of decline in positive cases.”

The new guidelines allow fitness studios, gyms and gym pools to begin operating on May 15 at 50 percent capacity and with strict guidelines, “including requiring staff to sanitize frequently touched areas and equipment during hours of operation, train workers on symptoms and handwashing technique as well as posting relevant signage instructing members with symptoms to stay home.”

“Hand sanitizer must be available, employees should wear masks and guests should wear masks when possible,” the guidelines state.

A six-foot distance must also be maintained between equipment and in locker rooms. Personal training may be allowed if social distancing can be maintained. Indoor group classes are prohibited, while outdoor group classes can be conducted as long as social distancing is maintained “and in groups of 10 or fewer if appropriate physical distancing is not possible.”

“Health and wellness has always been our goal, and the advent of the coronavirus has only sharpened that focus,” Doug Mahlum of the Montana Athletic Club in Bigfork said in a statement. “Our commitment is to our members, and our communities, keeping them safe. The protocols established by the state and the fitness industry will be instrumental in this endeavor. We want to bring back the physical and mental well-being of Montanans, get past this pandemic and return to what we do best – helping you stay fit and healthy.”

Gym pools are allowed to operate at half capacity. Bullock’s office said the CDC has indicated that properly maintained pool water inactivates the virus.

“It is critical that pools that have shut down during this time or reduced maintenance follow proper reopening procedures and sampling to ensure the water is safe for use before opening,” the guidelines state. “In the event a confirmed COVID-19 case is associated with a facility the facility should clean in accordance with CDC’s facility environmental cleaning procedures for workout areas, seating, locker rooms, and other areas of the establishment frequented by swimmers.”

Pool classes may continue if social distancing can be observed, and swimmers should maintain a six-foot distance in the pool at all times. Pools at licensed public accommodations — including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and tourist homes — can operate at half capacity and with additional social distancing and safety measures.

Non-tactile museums and movie theaters will be allowed to open under the updated guidance. Interactive museums or museums that allow touch interactions and displays and live performance theaters cannot operate.

Museums and theaters must keep their capacity at 50 percent and maintain six feet between non-family members or the immediate party. Signage must be posted instructing those who have COVID-19-related symptoms to stay home. Facilities must increase cleaning and sanitizing of frequently touched surfaces and control customer flow to maximize distancing.

Hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations must be available, and each venue should create and implement a written COVID-19 response plan. The guidelines state that cleaning and sanitizing should be completed no less than every two hours. Facilities should install shielding between workers and attendees whenever possible.

Theaters should increase the cleaning time period between showings to ensure that commonly touched areas such as arm rests and railings are cleaned frequently. Ushers should also monitor and enforce social distancing. At museums, gift shops are also limited to 50 percent capacity.

The guidelines state that gatherings should continue to be avoided in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing. Senior living and assisted-living facilities must continue to restrict visitors. The 14-day travel quarantine remains in effect.

All the businesses allowed to reopen on May 15 are also subject to other requirements. The full guidance will be posted at covid19.mt.gov.

“So far, Montana businesses and customers are working together to practice the social distancing and hygiene measures necessary to restart our economy, restore our collective sense of well-being and keep each other safe,” John Felton, president and CEO of RiverStone Health, a health clinic in Billings, said in a statement accompanying Bullock’s announcement of the updated guidelines. “I am confident we will all do our part during this important next step.”