Workout sessions at the gym are a major part of 43-year-old Alim Shabazz’s daily routine.
The new Safe Access O‘ahu program, which requires patrons to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result at gyms, did little to deter Shabazz, a fitness enthusiast from Ewa Beach, from his regular sessions at 24 Hour Fitness in Pearl City.
“The check-in process was seamless,” said Shabazz, a husband and father of three who has been a gym member for 26 years.
Of the new mandate, Shabazz said, “Collectively, we all have to do our part. … (The pandemic) is not going to last forever. This is just a blip in time, and we have to keep moving forward through this.”
Monday was the first day of the Safe Access O‘ahu program where all patrons must show proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination or negative test result to enter bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and recreational settings such as bowling alleys, arcades and archery ranges.
The new mandate will remain in effect for 60 days in an effort to reduce the influx in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.
For gyms such as 24 Hour Fitness and YMCA of Honolulu, members only have to show their vaccination cards once, at which time staff will make note of it in their systems.
Members in their 20s to 70s were seen showing their vaccination cards to staff Monday morning at the check-in counter at 24 Hour Fitness in Pearl City.
Barnaby Smith, district manager of 24 Hour Fitness in Hawaii, which comprises seven gym locations on Oahu, said they began requesting proof of vaccination or a negative test result from patrons four days ago. “So far, so good,” Smith said.
“The members have been really great. We have to be thankful for them,” he said, noting they haven’t had any cluster cases at any of their facilities since the pandemic began in March 2020. “And it’s all thanks to our members. The members have been great about the whole process.”
Before the Safe Access O‘ahu program went into effect, he recalled, there was a little bit of contention from people who didn’t believe the mandate was necessary. “In the end, at 24 Hour Fitness, our No. 1 priority is providing a safe work environment for all our members, our guests and team members,” Smith said.
He said there have been a lot of members who opted to freeze or cancel their membership because of the pandemic. With the new mandate in place, Smith said, there are former members who are coming back because they feel like the gym is safer than it’s ever been right now with everybody being required to show proof of a full vaccination or negative test result.
Gyms on Oahu are operating at 50% capacity to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. Indoor group exercise classes, for instance, are generally capped at 10 people: one instructor and nine participants.
At 24 Hour Fitness’ Pearl City location, the gym also provides a 25,000-square-foot outdoor area that occupies a section of the parking structure where nearly 100 pieces of workout equipment are sufficiently spaced.
The outdoor workout area is “really cool,” Smith said, because it provides options for members. “Whether you’re vaccinated or not vaccinated, anybody can use the outdoor space.”
Maui County’s “Safer Outside” program, which is similar to the Safe Access O‘ahu program, takes effect Wednesday and will remain in place for 30 days.
Hawaii and Kauai counties do not have a similar program in place for businesses at this time.
At the YMCA of Honolulu- Leeward Branch in Waipahu, Executive Director Jen Townsend said she received positive feedback from members, particularly from youth, of the new mandate. “We spoke to a couple of teenagers last week, and we asked them what did they think. I was surprised to hear them say they liked it and it was a good idea and it made them feel safe.”
“I didn’t think it would matter to them as much, but it does,” Townsend said.
Like 24 Hour Fitness, YMCA began implementing the program last week at its facilities.
Nearly two dozen spray bottles filled with disinfectant solution were observed at the entrance of the gym at the Leeward Branch for patrons to use before and after use of the gym equipment.
Greg Waibel, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Honolulu, said gyms provide a crucial service to maintain people’s health and well-being. It’s unfair that gyms are in the same category as bars and restaurants, Waibel said, adding that gyms are essential.
Both Townsend and Waibel hopes officials will ease restrictions after the 60-day period should the program be effective in reducing case numbers.