The schvitz is still off limits but other familiar spaces at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh are reopening.
Beginning Oct. 5, both the Squirrel Hill and South Hills branches will allow partial access to the general locker rooms, expand swimming pool capacity and increase evening hours until 8 p.m.
“This is the next iteration of a phased plan that very slowly and deliberately is trying to enhance the experience of our community at the JCC, but with health and safety first and foremost,” said JCC’s president and CEO, Brian Schreiber.
During phase two of the reopening plan, the JCC will follow similar protocols to those employed during phase one, explained Fara Marcus, the organization’s director of development and strategic marketing.
Mask wearing will remain mandatory, social distancing will be enforced, and extensive cleaning and sanitation practices will be practiced. Additionally, the JCC will continue to comply with local and state guidelines, as well as CDC recommendations, and will continue to work with the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, an operating arm of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.
PRHI has helped the JCC in its reopening strategy through “pressure testing,” explained Schreiber. With each new phase of its reopening plan, the JCC identifies certain goals, proposes strategies for implementation and submits those plans to the PRHI for scrutiny to preempt possible problems. For example, when the JCC decided to make use of designated open lockers in its general locker rooms during phase two, the pressure testing exercise enabled the JCC to determine that social distancing, and a reduction of high-touch areas, was possible by opening one locker every six feet and zip tying those open lockers to nearby closed lockers.
Under this plan, members can clearly see which lockers are open and available for use without having to unnecessarily touch other areas, said Marcus.
Operating under COVID-19 requires the JCC to balance safety with meeting its users' needs. For example, while health club users will not be able to close their lockers — members are discouraged from keeping valuables inside — the ability to store belongings should be helpful in the coming months. During the summer, swimmers could exit the facilities while wearing wet clothes, but with fall and winter weather, people need a place to put their belongings, like coats, said Schreiber.
Apart from partially reopening its general locker rooms, the JCC is effectively doubling the possible usage of its pools. Beginning Oct. 5, two swimmers will be permitted in each lane, total capacity will increase to 12 swimmers per 45-minute session and additional clothing storage will be provided in the pool lounge. Hours for lap swim will remain 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and reservations will continue through the MINDBODY online sign-in.
The changes should help safely remedy some of the supply and demand issues swimmers have experienced, said Schreiber.
Phase two will also include additional indoor programming.
Whether it’s dance classes, a performing arts camp or private basketball training, users can enjoy familiar JCC offerings in a safe, masked and socially distanced manner, said Marcus.
Little by little, the JCC is beginning to resemble its past self, but the community center’s leadership is cautious about returning too rapidly to a place where childcare users, eager exercisers, shvitz enjoyers, senior lunch-goers and educational enthusiasts can converge in a hubbub of activity.
From speaking with other JCC leaders across the country, and hearing the unique challenges each community faces navigating COVID-19, Schreiber recognizes that consistency is critical.
“It becomes less confusing for folks if you're not changing your protocols every day,” he said.
“We don't want to start moving forward on things and then a week or two from now move backward — that could happen but that's not our goal. Our goal as we move into these phases is that this becomes a bit of our new normal until we move into phase three or phase four or phase five.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.