The Lerner Health and Wellness Center reopened to students on campus earlier this month for a second semester under COVID-19 restrictions with limited reservations and shorter workout sessions.
In an email sent to on-campus residents earlier this month, officials said they are limiting gym operations in the spring to weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., during which students can book up to three weekly reservations per student available on the GW Campus Recreation website. University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said student feedback prompted officials to reopen the facility after operating under restricted access and more “business-like hours” to on-campus students in the fall.
“We are glad that we are able to accommodate their request,” she said in an email.
Nosal said Lerner will continue to provide similar virtual programming from the fall semester, including group fitness classes on Zoom and personal training sessions. She said the University will also offer fitness workshops during the spring semester through a program called Lerner Learning Series and 30-minute personal “training phone consultations” with “certified” trainers, according to the Division for Student Affairs’ website.
She said students can monitor registration information on the University’s social media and website, which features available group fitness dates between January and May.
The email detailing spring operations states students will be required to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks at all times except while swimming, according to the email. Workouts are also limited to one hour, and students are required to present a virtual green “CLEARED” badge available on the Colonial Health Center portal after participating in mandatory COVID-19 testings, the email states.
Nosal said Lerner was forced to shut down for two weeks in November after a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 prompted “several” other employees to self-isolate, leaving the gym without enough staff members to continue operations. She said gym staff followed “all safety protocol” at the time, including mask-wearing, hourly sanitation and the use of gloves, face shields and plexiglass barriers at desks.
Megan Landry, the project director of the Campus COVID Support Team, said two employees needed to self-isolate after the positive case, which originated from a “personal event” outside the gym but both tested negative for COVID-19. She said officials aren’t aware of any cases of COVID-19 transmission at the gym, and Lerner staff dedicated “intense cleaning” to the areas where the person who tested positive had been around for more than 15 minutes.
“It’s important for everyone to remember some basics of this virus and how it spreads, which is most commonly through close contact, within six feet, for 15 minutes or longer within a 24-hour period,” she said in an email. “So, just because someone at Lerner tested positive, it does not mean everyone at Lerner during the same time as the case was exposed.”
Lynn Goldman, the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, said Lerner employees are sanitizing gym equipment, separating weights and limiting capacity in each room or facility to maintain safety protocols in the gym.
“There’s just some sports we can’t really do safely because those folks are running in and out of each other’s breathing space all the time,” she said in an interview.
Goldman said officials don’t plan to roll back restrictions at Lerner or other limited-capacity University facilities, like the Marvin Center and Gelman Library, until the majority of faculty and staff members receive the COVID-19 vaccine by late summer or early fall. She said the gym is “as safe as any other place” but couldn’t assure a heightened sense of safety at the facility, citing positivity rates that continue to swell around in D.C.
“There’s no way that I can say that any place is 100 percent safe when the transmission rate in D.C., in the whole region, is over one, and it’s this way across the country,” she said.
Freshman and rowing athlete Alex Rainey, who lives in Shenkman Hall, said Lerner’s facilities will provide her with extra training after practice. But as a student-athlete with asthma, Rainey said she’s concerned the gym’s mask mandate could potentially worsen her respiratory issues.
“If I am working out at Lerner and if I need to take my mask off because I am having an asthma attack, would I be allowed to do that?” Rainey said.
With most classes remaining online for the spring semester, Rainey said she appreciates the University opening the gym so students can “get out” and boost their mental health with some exercise.
Jakob Aggers, a freshman who lives in District House, said he plans to go to a gym in Georgetown instead of using Lerner’s facilities this spring. Aggers, who also lived on campus during the fall semester, said he purchased a membership at a new gym with hours that better accommodated his academic schedule after officials closed Lerner when the COVID-19 case emerged.
Aggers commended staff members for ensuring that all students were wearing their masks, but he said they should be sure to disinfect spray bottles used to rinse equipment.
“I find it quite ironic that not everybody is touching the same gym equipment, but everybody is touching the same spray bottles,” Aggers said. “Georgetown uses disposable disinfectant wipes where you can just pull them out, and not everybody is touching the same spray bottles. I think the implementation of something like that would be nicer.”
Sarah Freeman, a freshman living in Potomac House, said she’s comfortable going to Lerner once or twice a week because her Monday and Wednesday remote yoga classes help her stay active during the week. She said she trusts officials to enforce safety protocols that will help the gym serve as a resource for students pursuing an active lifestyle.
“It just felt good to have that option be available and that GW felt safe having students go in there,” Freeman said.