University officials said at least one student contracted a skin infection that may be linked to improper cleaning of exercise mats at the Health and Wellness Center.
Isabel Goldenberg, director of Student Health Services, confirmed that her office treated a student with complaints of a skin ailment two weeks ago, although other officials said up to two more students may have been infected. She said she initially contacted the athletic department because the patient had been exercising on the mats at the Health and Wellness Center.
"As a public health monitor, I called them to tell them this is what we detected here," Goldenberg said. "We don't know if they got it (from the mats), but they did go there ... We don't want any more cases."
Goldenberg spoke with Tony Vecchione, assistant athletics director for facilities, advising that his department clean the mats more, a task that was previously left mainly to mat users. Vecchione said that the Health and Wellness Center will sanitize the mats on a more regular basis to prevent future incidents.
"You should wipe it off after you're done using it, but a lot of people, because they're in a rush or in a hurry, don't do that," Vecchione said. "It's just a matter of (us) cleaning more."
Despite concerns of the stretching mats' cleanliness, SHS and the athletics department have not confirmed that the skin infection was directly transmitted via mat contact.
"They're rolling around the mats half-naked and they don't wipe them down, but I still don't think it was the mats," said Emanuel Dash, a departing Health and Wellness floor supervisor who graduated in May 2005. "Have you seen some of the dorm rooms these kids live in? Mom's not there to clean the sheets."
"Eeew," said freshman Amanda Lintelman, after hearing of the infections that were possibly caused by the mats. "We pay a lot of money to come here and the facility is beautiful, so people shouldn't be getting sick from it."
"I think people should take responsibility to clean up after themselves - it's not that hard," Lintelman added. "But I also think that it's the gym's responsibility too."
The University already had a system of cleaning stations in the main workout room in the basement of the exercise facility, as well as in small cardio machine areas on other floors. Paper towels and spray bottles of disinfectant can be found within a few steps of any cluster of gym equipment.
In the basement workout area, there are 30 blue signs reading, "Please wipe down machines after use," in addition to gym rules posters with similar language.
Some students criticized the absence of these signs in areas outside the basement and said they were confused over who should have been cleaning the mats.
"I think people tend to forget to wipe down the mats, more so than the equipment," said sophomore Dani Kochavi, a frequent gym user and former gymnast. "I would hope people assume a mat is a piece of equipment, (but) that's the gymnast in me."
"People get lazy, get tired after (they) work out," Kochavi added.
Staff at local private gyms said the Health and Wellness Center's policy of relying on its members to clean the equipment was ineffective.
"That doesn't work," said Martin Olcott, an employee of the Washington Sports Club at 2020 K St. "Because you leave it up to the (patrons), and they get lazy and they're tired after working out, but if the employees do it, it gets done."
A professional housekeeping staff cleans the mats with mops and disinfectant solution at the Washington Sports Club on 20th and M streets, said Kristen Weber, fitness program manager at the gym. She said that the club's personal trainers pitch in too, continuously cleaning the cardio and weightlifting equipment.
Weber, a 2003 GW graduate who frequented the Health and Wellness Center as an undergraduate, said students consistently neglected to clean the equipment while gym staff sat behind the desks in the workout area doing homework.
"It's just looking bad for the school," Weber said, "because everyday we have new GW students interested in membership (at Washington Sports Club), because it's either too crowded or too disgusting."