Every corner of Rocky Top is preparing to receive its students. Except this time, it’s skipping the handshakes. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creates new dangers for both students and staff. This is especially true for the Student Recreational and Fitness Center, or TRECS.

Gyms are a breeding ground for the virus, with high contact surfaces galore. UT’s signature fitness center is no exception.

Students may opt to avoid gyms altogether. For those who don’t, RecSports unveiled the new TRECS — with updated hours and services. Additionally, new policies aim to limit human buildup and ensure facilities remain clean throughout the gym’s opening.

Students using the gym must do so at new hours-of-operation. Facilities will open at 6 a.m. and run through noon on weekdays. Service will resume at 4 p.m. and run until 10 p.m, after staff sanitize all equipment and surfaces. On Saturday and Sunday, TRECS will open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

RecSports also requires cleaning from both staff and gym goers throughout hours of operation. This includes cleaning weights and machines both before and after use, with wipes and disinfectant spray stationed throughout the facility.

For those worried about keeping materials in stock, RecSports Director Katy Locke wishes to emphasize how prepared TRECS staff are.

“RecSports has been preparing for several months, including making sure supply levels are adequate. Our staff are professionals and fully understand the importance of thoroughly cleaning as directed,” Locke said. “We will continue to train and educate our staff on cleaning protocols, and we greatly appreciate the help from our members as we work together to protect each other.”

There are no more in-person fitness classes, no more basketball/racquetball court rentals and no more lockers available for use.

Fitness classes like yoga are now fully virtual up until Oct. 6, at which point classes will move to a hybrid structure. RecSports allows a limited number of students to play basketball, but they must use only half a court. Locker rooms are limited to their use as restrooms.

Weight and cardio equipment is now spread throughout all three floors of the building, with some cardio machines located in the second floor basketball court and weight machines spread throughout the former cardio space on the first floor.

To further limit surface contact, students no longer need student IDs to enter. Instead, they will give their name to the front desk before entering via the TRECS turnstiles. Members will exit via one of the basketball courts to avoid unnecessary human contact.

These new guidelines, alongside a 400-person capacity limit, are to reduce crowding and alter traffic flow. RecSports hopes these policies will lead to lower infection risk when combined with the aforementioned cleaning requirements.

“We worked with Facilities Services to set capacity for TRECS to ensure that at least six feet of distance can be maintained by students while using the facility.” Locke said. “Members are asked to stay six feet from one another in the lobby and floor markers will show the appropriate distance. TRECS staff will monitor workout spaces and asks for all members to do their part to keep workout areas clean.”

Only 400 students are allowed into the building at a time, with staff keeping track via capacity counting software. Capacity information will be kept up to date on the RecSports webpage, allowing students to plan their workouts accordingly.

“TRECS staff are using a combination of our member management software and a capacity counting system that links directly to the RecSports website, providing students with real-time updates as to how many people are currently in TRECS,” Locke said. “Students can use this information to decide if they want to visit TRECS from their home or residence hall. The two independent software systems are monitored continually to ensure accurate counts."

RecSports also will also abide by UT’s COVID guidelines, which require daily self-screening via UT’s phone app.

In case a RecSports participant or worker becomes infected, staff will contact UT’s contact tracing team. Afterwards, TRECS staff will perform extra facilities cleaning to ensure student safety.

Jill Zambito, assistant vice chancellor for Student Life, explained how the contact tracing team operates.

“The contact tracing team’s role is to check on a student or employee’s situation, help connect them to support resources, provide guidance and help contact others who may need to take precautions,” Zambito said. “If a nonresidential campus space is affected by COVID-19, Facilities Services will identify key people who use the space and communicate with them to discuss temporary closure requirements and coordination of enhanced cleaning and disinfecting.”

If students receive messages from the contact tracing team, students are asked to respond as quickly as possible.

The TRECS reopened on August 9 and will remain open until the end of the semester in November. All policies are liable to change in light of increased COVID cases.

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