It has been a hectic day for Andrew Hvizd, director of Fitness & Aquatics at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre–JCC in Vaughan, Ontario.
This past Friday, the Ontario government announced that on October 25, today, it is lifting capacity limits in settings where proof of vaccination is required, including restaurants, indoor sports facilities and fitness clubs. As clubs across the province scrambled to get their buildings, systems, and staffing in order, Hvizd was also juggling the opening of a new JCC facility in nearby North York, a project that had been delayed due to the pandemic.
While Hvizd and his JCC colleagues weren’t caught off guard by Friday’s announcement (there were hints dropped at press conferences last week, says Hvizd), the JCC is moving forward cautiously.
“We made a business decision to implement the new protocols on Wednesday, instead of today, to be sure that all our materials have the correct language and so that appropriate staffing is in place,” says Hvizd. “We’ve increased group exercise capacity numbers, removed the booking system for the resistance training room, and we have software that collects vaccination data. We just want to be sure that our members have a quality experience when we implement the changes.”
Group exercise has traditionally been extremely popular at the JCC. Pre-pandemic, they offered 100+ classes per week, and group exercise had a 35 percent penetration rate. But the facility is easing back into classes carefully.
“Starting Wednesday we’ll be increasing group exercise class sizes to 30 participants from the current 20,” says Hvizd, noting that they could legally bump class numbers to the pre-pandemic capacity of 60 participants. “We’re mindful that members might not be ready to suddenly be shoulder to shoulder in classes again, so we’re keeping things smaller.”
Program participation rates in fee-for-service programs, such as karate, boxing and personal training, have taken a bit hit, and the JCC will need to work hard to rebuild these programs. On a positive note, says Hvizd, membership numbers are trending higher than expected as members and their families return to what many members consider the community hub.
One area of concern for the JCC is a decrease in the staffing talent pool. “A lot of fitness professionals and personal trainers have moved out of the community, city or province, or they’ve left the field for other careers,” says Hvizd.
From an industry perspective, says Hvizd, throughout the pandemic, clubs in other provinces have engaged with their local and provincial governments, while local and provincial Ontario governments haven’t been as receptive. “It’s a fact that there is a low transmission rate of COVID-19 in fitness facilities,” he says. “And in terms of safety protocols, many clubs have been doing well above what other industries have done. We could have potentially opened much earlier, perhaps when B.C. clubs did.”