Taped-off cardio machines and open swim sign-ups: How the PACC has adapted during the pandemic

To help create more space for social distancing while working out the PACC has started using part of teh back gym as a free weight area. (RosaLin Alcoser/ Healthy Life)

The Perham Area Community Center, or PACC, was one of many community centers and health clubs that temporarily closed their doors back in March because of COVID-19.

The PACC was able to reopen in June and has been running at about 25% occupancy ever since.

PACC Executive Director Leigh Shebeck said state social distancing rules require people to stay six feet apart from each other when indoors: “It limits the amount of equipment that’s available and the number of people we can have in the building at any one time throughout the day. That’s a major change.”

With occupancy limited, some health clubs have had to start requiring members to sign up for a time slot to work out in.

“We haven’t had to deal with it, yet,” Shebeck said this past summer. “Maybe when the weather changes we’ll have to look at implementing some of that, and we’ll worry about that when it gets here.”


Over time, habits change

The PACC has had lower numbers following the coronavirus lockdown for two reasons: One, people's habits changed; and two, the way people are allowed to interact in the facility has changed.

Shebeck said that, before, PACC users found it easier to find time during the day to run over to the gym to work out, rather than try to squeeze in workouts during busier times at home. But when COVID hit, they were forced to set aside time to work out at home -- and then that became their new routine.

While the PACC was closed down, virtual fitness classes and workouts were provided over Facebook Live and recordings were emailed out to members, Shebeck said. The PACC shared its virtual classes with other health clubs, which in turn shared their virtual classes with the PACC.

“They went over OK,” Shebeck said. “I mean it’s just a different habit to get used to than coming to the gym.”

With all the Minnesota Department of Health regulations, the limited capacity, and the governor's restrictions, the new normal at the PACC is to come in, work out, and leave.

"The social aspect of it, well, that’s all gone,” Shebeck said. “ There are no public seating areas; we can’t have them staying in the PACC and visiting. We went from, really, that social life, to truly just a fitness and aquatics center.”

For many members, especially the local ones, not having that social time is a big change. Shebeck said the people who used to be in the habit of coming in in the morning, working out, and then staying in the lobby to read the paper and visit, have not been back now that the social aspect is gone.

“A big question from a local perspective is, 'When are those members going to be coming back?'” Shebeck said. He added that even if the PACC could fully reopen tomorrow and go back to how it was before the pandemic, people’s habits have already changed, and those who have not already come back might not be coming back.


The same but different

The same equipment, classes and aquatics center are all still available to PACC users, with some slight modifications, according to Shebeck. Equipment is spaced farther apart, some of the cardio machines are taped off to create more space between people, and field houses are closed, he said. But all the equipment is still there. The big changes have been with how the classes and the aquatics center work.

On nice days, fitness classes have been held outside, and with limited capacity, Shebeck said. There's also been a new requirement that participants sign up for classes.

Sign-up is also required at the aquatics center. People need to sign up for open swim slots in order to keep the pool at its limited capacity and keep track of who was in the pool when.

“We have to have a sign-up so if we have a COVID outbreak we can track it down,” Shebeck said. “If you come in and call us saying, ‘I work out at the PACC, I have COVID,’ we can go back and, if you took a fitness class or were in open swim in aquatics, we have all the contacts of who was in there.”

With no word on when the PACC and other health clubs will be able to go back to running at full capacity with no restrictions, there is no end in sight.

“We’re projecting that this is maybe going well into 2022,” Shebeck said.

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