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ZANESVILLE - Four months of prepping to open Hype Fitness was finally behind manager Vicky Loterbaugh and owner David Smith.

To prepare for the gym's opening Monday on Court Drive, they pushed memberships on social media, hired employee to staff the gym's 24-hour schedule, prepped cleaning measures and even traveled to New York by plane. 

It was a lot of work and anxiety, he said, but things were finally falling into place as opening day on Monday was approaching.

But they were thrown a curveball last week when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that gyms could be temporarily shut down as early as Thursday due to COVID-19 spreading like wildfire through the state.

"Just opening here, we were excited to get open and have another spot for people to come and to be healthy," Loterbaugh said.

But full closure was off the table when the state mandated a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly curfew beginning Thursday. But the gym is open 24 hours, so the curfew effectively cuts available member hours by a third.

Now not quite off the hook, Hype Fitness and other local 24-hour gyms who thrive on that business model face a new set of challenges for three weeks, possibly more as other states begin full shutdowns, leaving business owners concerned about Ohio's future.

Despite the governor's announcement last week, the two decided to plow forward with the opening on Monday. As of Tuesday, they had already received more than 30 applications for memberships, many of which came before opening day, Loterbaugh said.

The prospect of business temporarily shutting down isn't a new concept to Smith. "It's all a part of the business," he said.

He also owns the gym's building on Court Drive, home to the former Nautilus Fitness. That gym closed last spring after the first state shutdown and he decided to open the new business in the same space. He did not own that business, however.

"We've told our staff from the get-go we would kind of have to ride out this wave, so they're very aware," Loterbaugh said of potential layoffs. She said the new curfew doesn't affect staffing levels, but a full closure is a different story.

DeWine said last week that in bars restaurants and fitness centers "a great deal of time people are not wearing a mask."

Evidence indicating gyms are a major source of spreading the virus is unclear. A September study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of participants who went to a gym within 14 days of illness onset was up to 5.5%, although that was less than half of that of restaurants and bars.

Contrast that with a study from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association — an organization whose guidelines on fitness center reopenings are often cited by the CDC — found little statistical significance of COVID cases and gym visits.

Hype Fitness requires members to wear masks when traveling between machines in the main workout area. If there are more than three people working out, masks are required at all times, Smith said.

Planet Fitness, another 24-hour gym with a Maple Avenue location, has a similar policy, according to a statement on the company's website. Company spokeswoman Becky Zirlen said the round-the-clock schedule is a draw for memberships.

"Nurses, people that work in the restaurant industry, often those are members who come in late at night and early in the morning," she said, and until the curfew ends in three weeks, "it is what it is right now in the meantime."

True North Fitness manager Jennifer McLoughlin said she had always remained hopeful that gyms wouldn't be completely shutdown, citing the city of Chicago's recent stay-at-home orders excluding fitness centers.

“I’ve had a lot of people come to me who are so upset that the gym might close," she said of Highpointe Court 24/7 gym's members. "They’re dedicated, they’re very serious about it."

For Smith, it's all a part of the business and said he's at least mentally prepared.

"We try to plan, but until it happens, this stuff's all new," he said. "We'll deal with whatever's thrown our way, that's all we can do,"

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