SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — South Bay gym owners and users expressed relief and happiness over the state’s lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions this week since it makes it possible to accommodate more people but mostly because it encourages more people to come back to gyms.

“The biggest change is people being more comfortable in going out and going to gyms,” said Catherine ‘Cece’ English, co-founder of San Jose gym Red Dot Fitness.

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English said for her small business, which has served the San Jose community for 10 years, the lifting of restrictions does not make a huge difference in day-to-day operations, but more so day-to-day attitudes.

“It’s nice that people will be able to be mask-free, but really our problem is that about two-thirds of our members canceled their memberships since the pandemic’s start,” English said.

She said she lost many clients because several moved out of the Bay Area and state, others couldn’t afford a gym membership anymore and most just felt unsafe to share equipment and space with other people during the pandemic.

So hopefully the easing of restrictions makes people feel the threat of COVID has eased as well, she said.

“The best thing for us is that people feel safe again to come back.”

And it seems like attitudes are shifting already, she said. Since the governor’s announcement in April that the state would be reopening Tuesday, she has had about two membership inquiries a day.

“That is a lot for our gym…which has a capacity of a little less than 100 people,” English said.

But this glimmer of hope is a long time coming, English said.

COVID decimated her business. She said at times she worried if they were going to be able to remain open, especially as gyms continued to be the “boogieman.”

Gyms were ordered to first close in March 2020 and in June were able to host outdoor workouts.

“We tried to do that and the city helped us identify space but it still wasn’t enough to sustain our gym,” English said.

By September 2020, gyms and fitness centers were able to welcome back a small capacity of members back indoors — depending on a county’s tier standing.

But as COVID cases jumped again in November, gyms were ordered to close indoor operations again through nearly the end of January 2021.

From that point, indoor capacity for gyms and fitness centers gradually reopened.

“It seems as though gyms have really been villainized,” English said. “Gyms and salons have been hit the hardest, I think, with regards to COVID as collateral damage.”

She said it was ironic that her business, which promotes health and nutrition, was closed for other health reasons. While she understood the gravity of COVID, the impact of gym closures were also detrimental to her clientele and other gym goers.
Still, reopening day Tuesday was a happy one, she said.

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Tyler Levene, a trainer at Red Dot Fitness, echoed that sentiment.

“I am very excited,” Levene said. “There’s going to be a lot of possibilities because now everyone will be able to take care of themselves, or not be afraid to get outdoors, or just be around people again.”

So did Red Dot Fitness member Dana Jewell.

“It’s so nice to see people’s faces, it’s nice to see people’s smiles,” Jewell said. “There’s people here that I’ve worked out with since Thanksgiving that I didn’t know what their face looked like.”

The uplifting and happy spirits were also felt by Sandra Bui, a manager at 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Teresa Boulevard.

“Honestly I feel a lot better about everything,” Bui said. “With capacity restrictions, a lot of people were missing out on group classes or certain machines were taken up, so it’s a lot better for our members.”

She said since the reopening announcement, her gym has also seen an uptick in memberships and inquiries.

On Tuesday, within the first few hours of the day she said she had five new people join the gym.

“We are getting so many sign ups just because they’re excited to be back with no regulations and be able to feel like themselves again,” Bui said.

On the first day, she said about 40 percent of customers were maskless. Though she anticipates more than 40 percent are vaccinated, Bui said it not wearing a mask anymore will probably take getting used to.

She said as far as day-to-day operations of the gym goes, not much will change.

“We are still following the same cleaning protocols and our staff members are still wearing masks,” Bui said.

However, Bui said many more people will be able to enjoy the swimming pool and basketball courts, which before only allowed one person to one hoop- a very contentious policy, she said.

So really the big change for gym owners and goers is overall attitude.

“Now it finally feels like we are somewhat close to back to normal,” Bui said. “It’s hard to top that.”

Both 24 Hour Fitness and Red Dot Fitness are following the honor system in terms of mask wearing. They said they will not ask for proof of vaccinations but hope that everyone is honest.

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“If not, that’s why our staff wears masks and we clean everything all the time,” English said.