On Monday, Sept. 14, Dillon Gymnasium, the primary fitness and recreation facility on campus, will re-open for student use for the first time since its mid-March closure. Access to the gym will be by reservation only and restricted to undergraduate and graduate students approved to reside on campus, according to a Campus Rec announcement.
The University’s move comes two weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy’s Aug. 27 executive order permitting gyms and fitness centers to resume indoor operations, with some restrictions. This order superseded a June 26 order, which had forbidden gyms from opening indoor facilities to the public.
The June order reasoned that gyms present a particularly high risk of COVID-19 transmission because they entail people “congregating in a confined indoor space” and engaging in “sustained physical activity resulting in heavy breathing.” But two months later, Murphy reversed his stance, arguing that although congregating in enclosed spaces presents certain risks, individuals tend to use the facilities for “a short period of time,” and enforcing precautionary measures can mitigate transmission concerns.
Since Sept. 11, the almost 300 undergraduates residing on campus this fall — due to emergency housing requests, thesis research accommodations, and ROTC training — have been able to reserve time slots at Dillon for the week of Sept. 14. Each reservation lasts 45 minutes, with a 15 minute grace period before the next one.
Four students living on campus told The Daily Princetonian they look forward to using the gym. “I’m so excited for it to open and I’m sure I will use it often,” wrote MC Wright ’24, a first-year student in ROTC. Gabriel Duguay ’22 agreed, stressing that for him the opportunity to exercise in the facility is more than a matter of fun.
“I’m really excited to go back,” he told the ‘Prince.’ “Dillon is really good for my mental health.”
One student expressed confidence that the University would only have made the decision to reopen the gym if doing so were safe from a COVID-19 standpoint.
“I trust that Dillon will only have opened with proper safety precautions,” said David Liu ’22. “In that case, I think it’s great and will really be beneficial for lots of people on campus.”
All students using the gym facilities are required to abide by public health policies, enumerated on the Campus Rec website. The policies include wearing a face covering “at all times, except when in the pool,” entering and exiting only from the lobby, cleaning equipment before and after use with a microfiber cloth and disinfectant provided by staff, and submitting to a temperature screening upon arrival.
When asked about the prospect of exercising in a face mask, students did not express concern.
“I wore a mask at my gym this summer, so I have done it before,” Wright said. “It’s not the most comfortable, but it’s keeping everyone safe.”
Per Campus Rec regulations, students are not permitted to use the showers in Dillon, but will be allowed to use the pool shower to rinse off before swimming. Lockers and cubbies will not be available for storing personal belongings, and locker rooms may be used only for their restrooms.
The gym’s posted schedule includes 3 time blocks of active use separated by two-hour cleaning periods. From Mondays through Fridays, Dillon will be available for students’ reservations 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., with the intervening two-hour periods devoted to cleaning the facility. On the weekends, the gym is open for two blocks: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Within the Dillon complex, Campus Rec has restricted the total capacities of various recreational areas. On the lower level, Stephens Fitness Center can hold a maximum of 35 people, while the main gymnasium floor can hold 25. The cardio annex is limited to eight. In the pool, one person can occupy each lane — with one person in the shallow end — for a total of seven.
Generally, students who spoke with the ‘Prince’ were pleased to see the University balancing COVID-19 safety concerns with the physical and mental health benefits provided by access to the gym.
“I’m excited to go back because it helps keep me grounded during the semester, but at the same time I want to be sure it’ll be safe,” Armani Aguiar ’21 told the ‘Prince.’