Bill Porter, of Salem, wears a face shield while working out at Epic Fitness on Thursday, July 30. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

After two months of increased Covid restrictions, residents of Marion and Polk counties are now allowed to go to the gym, play video lottery or take a dip in an indoor pool.  

As Covid transmissions have slowed, pandemic restrictions have been loosened for beginning Friday, Jan. 29, for the 25 counties in the “extreme risk” category, which includes Marion and Polk counties.

“We have heard from many small businesses (gyms, youth recreation, and other types of personal fitness) that re-opening indoor operations in at least some fashion would help them get through until their counties improve their risk levels,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email. “However, we have said from the beginning of the pandemic that reopening comes with risk.”

But for many businesses, the change is too little and too late — or not enough.

Of the more notable changes are gyms being able to reopen. Under the regulations,  gyms and other indoor athletic facilities are allowed limited reopenings. Facilities with 500 square feet or greater can now allow up to six people, from four different groups, inside.

In reopened gyms, people from different households have to maintain 25 -feet of physical distance and the number of employees on-site is limited to the  “minimum number of employees needed to operate the establishment.”

Increased sanitation and other requirements are also in place. Those under 500-square-feet allow for one-on-one customer interactions, such as personal training.  

Michele Vanderyacht was formerly general manager for Epic Fitness, a Salem gym that recently had to close permanently. She said that the limit of six people might be feasible for smaller gyms. But Epic Fitness, which has 15,000 square feet, and other larger would have a hard time justifying the staffing, electricity and other costs. 

“We wouldn’t open the gym for six people because we would be losing money,” she said. 

Vanderyacht said that the six-person limit seemed to be pulled “out of thin air” and there was no clear basis for it. Boyle did not respond to questions about the basis for the limit. 

Gyms are often social places, said Vanderyacht. And if they’re closed, a group of men who like to lift weights together will gather in someone’s garage without the same public health guidelines in place, she said.

Tracy Bybee, the owner of Snap Fitness, said she welcomed members back to her gym located at 4555 Liberty Road S., on Friday. She said that her gym is 4,000 square feet, smaller than others, making the capacity limit workable. 

She said that members have been “ecstatic” to be back at the gym and have been accommodating with each other with scheduling times. She said that for many members, working out benefits their mental and physical health. 

“People have problems with depression,” she said. “It’s rainy, it’s snowy, it’s dark. We need to have those endorphins coming.” 

The revised regulations allow pools to open as long as their operators have a plan to maintain 6 feet of physician distance between swimmers. Masks are still required outside of the pool. 

Ryan Rhoades, public relations and marketing coordinator for the Salem Kroc Center, said there are no immediate plans to open the center’s pool. 

Indoor entertainment facilities, such as concert halls, gardens and theaters are also allowed to reopen, under the guidelines. Facilities 500 square feet larger can only allow six people from four different groups inside. 

Loretta Miles, the owner of Salem Cinema, said she’s not going to open her theater because she would lose money by holding screenings for just six people. 

“With the need to pay rent, utilities, insurance, etc. on a continuing basis regardless of whether the theater is open or closed, I'm unable to assume any more losses than those piling up at the current rate,” she said. 

Bars and restaurants can still only seat customers outside in addition to offering takeout and delivery. The updated guidelines allow bars and restaurants to operate video lottery machines. But only six people are allowed inside playing the machines at one time. The machines must be spaced apart. Additionally, people playing the games can’t eat or drink and must wear masks. 

Boyle said that video lottery is allowed because it’s not as risky and indoor dining or other activities. 

“Allowing limited use of video lottery terminals is different than allowing people to eat or drink indoors,” he said. “For example, it is a one-person activity that is allowed only when the individual wears their face covering the entire time and physical distance is maintained between individual customers at those terminals.”

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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