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Arkansas Gyms working out kinks of new restrictions needed to reopen

At least one gym operator was pleasantly surprised to get the go-ahead to open next week from Gov. Asa Hutchinson at his Thursday news conference.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — At least one gym operator was pleasantly surprised to get the go-ahead to open next week from Gov. Asa Hutchinson at his Thursday news conference.

The Hot Springs Family YMCA expected to reopen later in May, but now say they are aiming to welcome back members Wed. May 6, two days after the first opportunity offered by the governor, though operators envision challenges both before and after reopening the doors.

"Group fitness classes, boot camp type classes, pickleball, basketball, you name it we've got it and [our members] are missing those types of activities," said Peter Davin, the CEO of the facility that sports a fitness center, gymnasium, pool, yoga yurt, and child care.

"We're excited, thrilled, to be back open for business on May 4th," said Kelly Eichler, a co-owner of Little Rock Athletic Club and member of the governor's economic re-start task force. 

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She had been pushing to allow facilities like hers to get back to work. But now comes the hard part for facilities large and small: giving everyone 12 feet to exercise.

"When people run, the movement of air around them can leave a plume of virus behind them," said Dr. Nate Smith, the Arkansas Secretary of Health on what scientists know about coronavirus and how it spreads both inside and outside.

That knowledge led to the extra spacing mandate as well as numerous other requirements. Treadmills can be slanted and side-by-side, but face-to-face is a real problem. Pools are staying closed even though chlorine kills the virus, but it sticks around on so many surfaces getting into and out of a swimming area, like locker rooms, saunas and showers.

Shooting hoops on the basketball court is okay. Playing one-on-one is not.

Davin says operators like him can count on one thing at the outset of reopening.

RELATED: Gyms, fitness centers in Arkansas to re-open on May 4th with restrictions

"The majority of our people coming in are healthy," he said. "I think that will be a little bit less challenging than if we were a medical facility."

Davin does note that a third of the YMCA's members are seniors. He will urge them to be sensitive to how healthy they are feeling and confident they are about going into a gym environment.

The hiatus has been very tough on the Y's revenue, but Davin says more challenging questions are still a few laps away.

"Who will come back in? How quickly will they come back in?" Davin asks rhetorically. 

"We're getting ready to offer summer day camp. We're not sure families are going to feel confident enough to bring their kids in. Things could actually be more challenging after we open."