- Dom DiFurio, Dallas Morning News

It’s taking customers’ temperatures, but masks and gloves aren’t mandatory.

Trophy Fitness owner Kelley Gray stood outside his gym in Uptown Dallas Monday morning, checking the latest coronavirus data from Dallas County Health and Human Services on his iPhone and welcoming familiar faces back for the first time in more than nine weeks.

Some of the faithful had questions for the front desk staff about what measures were being taken to keep the gym clean and safe, but most kept to themselves, eager to have their temperature taken so they could get back to their fitness routines, Gray said.

A few staff members and customers donned face masks on opening day, but Trophy Fitness is not mandating the use of masks or gloves inside its gyms.

“It’s just stuff like that where it gets to be silly, but if people feel comfortable that’s great,” Gray said. “You’re more than welcome to workout with that stuff on, but we’re definitely not going to make it mandatory.”

Under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, gyms, exercise facilities and workout classes were permitted to reopen Monday at 25% operating capacity. Locker rooms and shower facilities had to remain closed, except for use as restrooms.

“As soon as things closed down, we just started coming up here and getting a plan together of what it’s going to look like when we reopen,“ Gray said.

Founded in 2003, Trophy Fitness has three locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, including its original gym in Uptown Dallas where Gray helped staff the reopening.

Trophy had a strong year financially going into 2020, Gray said, allowing the small fitness chain to invest in safety measures like additional cleaning staff, temperature guns for the front desk and electrostatic disinfectant sprayers.

“We spent a lot of money because we want to be a leader in this,” he said.

And while layoffs have ravaged many small businesses, the gym owner said he was able to retain 80% of his staff.

“We knew we were going to be open at some point and were going to need them, so we continued to pay them,” he said.

Before the gym reopened, Gray and his staff worked on spacing out gym equipment to accommodate social distancing where possible. Instead of removing and storing heavy treadmill machines, the gym placed placards on them encouraging gym-goers to use every other one to keep their distance.

Group classes are canceled for the time being, but personal training is continuing.

“It feels great to be back,” Trophy Fitness trainer John Gordon said through a black face mask, as he disinfected equipment following a client session.

24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Cowboys Fit, LifeTime Fitness and Orange Theory also reopened locations.

Some gyms, such as 24 Hour Fitness, are using technology to stay within operating capacity limits. It developed ways for its mobile app to function as a reservation system, giving it control over how many people could work out simultaneously. Gray said he hadn’t turned any customers away in Uptown Monday, but the company would consider a reservation system in the future if necessary.

Hesitation to return

While checking the latest data on coronavirus infections in Dallas County, Gray said he was encouraged to see the number of cases requiring hospitalization seemed to be decreasing week-to-week.

In Texas, the number of daily tests being done has grown and the percentage of positive cases has shrunk, according to the data available to the public. The state’s hospitals have not yet come close to filling up. Nonetheless, public health officials and infectious disease experts are waiting and watching for a potential rise in cases as Texas enters its third week of reopening.

How gym reopenings will impact the spread of the virus in Texas, if at all, remains to be seen.

Research published by the Centers for Disease Control last week found an outbreak of 112 COVID-19 cases in South Korea that were traced back to group exercise classes. The research suggested that “intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase risk for infection,” according to its authors.

Gray said Monday he’d already heard from Trophy Fitness members who preferred to keep their membership billing suspended because they weren’t ready to return.

“There’s a third of the population who thinks they’re bulletproof, they don’t care, they’re going to come in no matter what,” he said. “[Another] third is a little cautious. They want to know that there’s a plan in place and we’re executing it and we’re making sure that people are respecting other people’s wishes and beliefs. And then there’s a third …, they’re not coming in right now no matter what we do.”

‘Too early to pull the trigger’

Although Gray was ready for the reopening, not every gym in Dallas-Fort Worth was as eager.

Located on the opposite side of Uptown, boutique fitness studio Class Studios has yet to decide on a date when it open its doors.

“Things are changing by the day, hour and minute, and it felt too early to pull the trigger without knowing more,” said founder and owner Jasmine Zutter.

Class Studios, located beneath the Richards Group building off U.S. 75 near downtown Dallas, has transitioned to online fitness classes, which has helped the company financially.

“As a boutique studio whose formats have traditionally thrived off of physical closeness and the energy of a packed room, we are having to reevaluate how to execute our disciplines in a way that complies with guidelines set forth by the state and most importantly, puts the health and safety of our staff and community at the forefront,” Zutter said.

Class Studios customers have been supportive, she said.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is also holding off. It’s working toward a phased reopening of its gyms on June 1. The YMCA said the phased approach will give the nonprofit time to prepare and train staff.

“This approach allows us to prepare our facilities and train staff while helping members get comfortable with new routines,” the YMCA said on its website.