By: Seth George
For the last five months, students have been cooped up inside their homes, unable to exercise at gyms due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. These long, unforeseeable months caused students and others to experience a shift in their weight due to a lack of exercise.
Despite virtual learning, Loyola University Chicago opened a few of its amenities, including their recreation center. Halas, located in the Damen building on the Lake Shore Campus, was always a bustling location on campus, filled with students and faculty coming in-and-out to get in their daily exercise. Halas reopened its doors on August 24th, 2020 welcoming back students.
I had the pleasure to meet with Julia Browning, Rock Wall Manager and a Senior at Loyola, to discuss how life now is at Halas and its new COVID-19 regulations. Browning has worked at the rock wall for a year and has been the Rock Wall Manager for four months. With a deep passion for climbing and the outdoors, Browning hopes more students will come to Halas to regain a sense of community and normalcy.
Halas has now limited its amenities, capacity level, and hours of operation. Reservations are required for students 24 hours in advance. Guests can only register for a 50 minute interval at either the weight room, cardio floor, or the rock wall, leaving it for many without the energy it used to have.
George: Prior to COVID-19, can you describe the environment at Halas?
Browning: Halas was such a fun environment to be in: there were people everywhere; there was bustling everywhere; there was noise all the time. You would always see smiling faces or people stopping by to say hi. It created a sense of community to a lot of people.
George: And since COVID-19, how would you describe the environment?
Browning: It’s bare. It’s quiet. It’s empty. There’s not as many sounds. It’s kind of sad. I
was at the rock wall the other day and I was like, I miss the old Halas. I miss not being able to hear myself talk to patrons. I miss the noise of the basketball courts, seeing people randomly come in or stopping by, hanging out on the bean bag chairs, and just like being around other people. Now it’s just you, doing what you’re there for. And at the rock wall, if people don’t come in, you sit there for 50 minutes with your other co-worker.
George: What type of safety precautions do you enforce for students to enter in Halas?
Browning: Patrons must wear a mask when they workout and social distance.
George: Are they enforced to clean off the equipment after they use them?
Browning: Right, so that’s what the 50 minute intervals are for. So there’s a 10 minute interval where the staff goes around and cleans and disinfects everything. In the rock wall, we wipe down all the shared spaces. And after our shift is over, we have electromagnetic sprayers: you take them, spray it, and you disinfect every hold of the rock wall.
George: Oh wow.
Browning: So when someone enters the space of the rock wall, they are supposed to sanitize their hands and then they’re free to climb. We don’t give out rentals anymore, so no shoe rentals and no harnesses. You can climb in your tennis shoes but it’s harder. So if you are really into climbing, I would recommend getting climbing shoes.
George: When a student or a faculty member enters, do they get their temperature checked?
Browning: No. I have to in order for me to work. I have to show a check mark that shows that I have no fever, cough, and sore throat.
George: Okay. What other safety precautions do employees have to take to work at Halas?
Browning: We are getting tested each week. That’s just to make sure that we don’t have it and we aren’t bringing it into the shared space. We’re required to wear a mask and gloves when we work.
George: I know some students are cautious about going to the gym, what would you say to them to try to encourage them that it’s safe to attend Halas and workout?
Browning: I would personally say that Halas is doing whatever they can to stay open. We are taking so many safety precaution measures that I would feel safe personally going there. I have friends who are immunocompromised, but it’s only up to the person. I think going to Halas is a way to get your sense of community back, get a sense of normalcy with Loyola being deserted. So it’s up to that person, but Halas is doing its absolute best to make sure everything is safe.
George: What do you think the future of Halas looks like?
Browning: If everything goes well, I could see more things open up. I know that we had to let go of a majority of our pro staff, so Halas is only being run by Megan Morris, the Campus Director, and Brandi Bates, my boss. Hopefully if everything goes well this semester, and the CDC guidelines allow things to open more progressively, we will be able to have more people, we can bring basketball back, we can bring top roping back, and we can have more people in the space hopefully.
For more information, please visit: https://www.luc.edu/campusrec/halas/