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Balancing student safety & experience: the rec center’s approach to in-person events

<p>The rec center has remained open throughout the semester by adhering to Miami&#x27;s strict guidelines.</p>

The rec center has remained open throughout the semester by adhering to Miami's strict guidelines.

The Miami University Recreational Sports Center (rec center) and its fitness centers have remained open the entire 2020-2021 school year, but the CDC recently announced some COVID-19 outbreaks can be traced back to public gyms. 

Doug Curry, the executive director of recreation services, explained Miami’s rec center was one of the first to reopen in Ohio after quarantine last spring.

“We opened up on July 5, and a lot of [gyms] didn’t open up until late August or even later than that,” Curry said.

Not only was Miami’s rec center one of the first to open, but the facility currently hosts a lot of in-person events on campus.

In order to give students these opportunities, staff members at the rec center were asked to develop pandemic-safe protocols that Miami’s administration would approve.

“We went through probably ten proposals to the administration on what protocols we were going to follow and what we were going to do to keep the students safe,” Curry said. “[The Miami administration] agreed with us finally. It was frustrating, but we did get it open. Now, we’ve been concentrating about what else we can do safely.”

Some regulations are mandated by the CDC and state governments in addition to Miami. However, Miami’s guidelines seem to be more strict.

“Sometimes Miami’s guidelines are a little more stringent than the state guidelines,” Curry said. “The university administration has the final call, and we will follow whatever guidelines they give us.”

Curry recognizes it has been a hard year for everyone, including Miami students, but said it has been a tough year for the rec center as well. Typically, the center would see around 3,000 students a day, but that number is now less than 2,000.

Another challenge facing the rec center is deciding where to draw the line between student safety and student experience.

“Our sole focus is to give students opportunities [where] they can participate, have fun, meet new people and so forth,” Curry said. “We are highly motivated program people. We want to provide as many opportunities for students as we can, and we’ve been shut down a lot.”

The rec center has been given a bit more freedom to host events due to the protocol agreement made with the university. Some of the rules include increased sanitizing frequency, minimizing high touch areas and requiring students to wear masks, even when working out. 

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“We are cleaning high touch points every two hours,” Curry said. “[Also,] we did install three touchless drinking fountains in the rec [center] that we never had before. Hopefully, that prevents touch points.”

Even with all these extra precautions, Curry said the hardest part is getting students to comply with the mask policy.

“Just recently we have opened up drop-in basketball at the rec center, but we had to have it supervised,” he said. “[The students] either don’t wear [a mask] or more likely, don’t wear it appropriately: below the nose, down on the chin, and so forth. It is more about the mask compliance than anything else.”

Danielle Allaire, a senior biology major, said she believes most students are respecting the rec center’s rules.

“I think all the students going to [the] rec are just happy it is open, so they are also happy to comply and follow the rules,” Allaire said.

Allaire is glad to have the rec center open because it positively affects her sense of belonging. 

“It’s just been nice because the workout itself might not be fun, but it’s fun to go with someone and still see some community,” Allaire said.

Ethan Oilar, a senior creative writing major, has also found social connections through the rec center. 

“I’ve been able to make friends this year just with the intramural volleyball team that I’ve been on,” Oilar said.

He also said the past year has taken a toll on his mental health, and taking part in activities has allowed him to regain his mental strength. 

“I am definitely a people-oriented person,” Oilar said. “I love to interact with other people. Being in quarantine and not being able to do that definitely put a damper on my mental health and overall attitude. Being able to get back to normal life, in a sense, has been very good and helped me attack this semester with as much gusto as possible.”

Along with Allaire and Oilar, Curry hopes for a promising future.

“Hopefully,” Curry said, “fall kicks off and we are right back to normal, so we can offer the events.”