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New normal begins to emerge as businesses and others open to public

  • A planned project to update duct work for improved ventilation and air quality at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center was accelerated to take advantage of the facility’s closure due to COVID-19. Gerry Koslowski, of Alliance Mechanical, hangs supports for the ducts in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley Aquatic Center employee Matt Young, left, introduces UVAC member Gene Kadish, of Thetford, to an automated kiosk that checks a person’s temperature before they are admitted to the facility in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 11, 2020. The center reopened a week after the State of Vermont allowed fitness centers to return to business while observing precautions against the spread of COVID-19. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Natalie Yoder, left, and Caitlin Gaudet, right, both of Quechee, lifted weights at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt,. Thursday, June 11, 2020, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic closures. The women work as lifeguards at the Quechee Club, and had been doing mostly cardio workouts at home before UVAC reopened this week. Weight lifting machines have been spaced out, and some closed for use to help ensure social distancing requirements are met. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Fitness instrutor Susan Van Abs, right, and class member Cindy Darling, of Hartland, left, disinfect their equipment after a Power Hour strength training and cardio class at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 11, 2020. Van Abs’ class can usually accomodate 12 to 15 participants, but with new six-foot distiancing requirements, a maximum of eight participants plus the instructor can be in the room at a time. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 6/11/2020 9:42:05 PM
Modified: 6/15/2020 3:39:10 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Remember to use the back door for the pool.

The Upper Valley Aquatic Center, after being shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic for nearly three months, has reopened its facility for swimming and other activities but with myriad new safety protocols in place that show what life — and leisure — will look like in the months ahead as the country emerges from lockdown.

“We’ve had to make some serious accommodations,” Joe Major, executive director of UVAC, said of reopening the facility to members on June 8. “This has been a harrowing time for everyone, and we want anyone who comes in here to feel safe and comfortable.”

UVAC is being joined by other recreational centers, restaurants, hotels, stores and banks that are beginning to reopen their doors after being ordered closed by state governments to slow the spread of coronavirus. Now that authorities say the pandemic has peaked in many places, businesses and other entities can begin welcoming back customers and members as long as they follow federal and state guidelines.

The changes in how business will be conducted this summer will be felt in small and big ways. Face masks among both employees and customers will be the norm — in some places entry is barred without one — and members will be required to make reservations at recreational centers (not just showing up when they’re in the mood to climb the Stairmaster). The complimentary coffee has disappeared from the lobby of Mascoma Bank branches and it won’t be possible to sit at the bar at Molly’s in Hanover.

And expect shorter hours at businesses all around for the foreseeable future.

“No showers, no sauna, no hot tub,” said Kerry Artman, executive director of the Carter Community Building Association in Lebanon, ticking off some of the facilities that will be unavailable at the Witherell Recreation Center, per state health department guidelines.

The CCBA, which has been closed since March 16 and reopens Monday, will initially be open only half days from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays, and 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays. It requires that members call ahead so the facility does not exceed state-imposed limits on capacity in the building.

“We’re going to start small. We know we’ll be making adjustments to the schedule and adding hours. Right now we’re trying to feel the need and meet the demand accordingly,” Artman said.

Meanwhile, the aquatics center across the river in White River Junction, which closed March 18, reopened Monday after clarifying guidelines issued by the state.

Initially, Major said, the rules said Vermont recreational facilities could only allow Vermont residents. “But half our members are from New Hampshire,” Major pointed out.

After consulting with the Vermont Department of Health, UVAC was told that it could also accept members who lived within “commuting distance.

“So Enfield you’re good to go, but Manchester, no,” Major said.

But before showing up, members need to make a reservation — yes, there’s an app for that — and have their temperatures checked before entering the building. Exercise and cardio equipment has been spaced 6 feet apart and the fitness floor has been taped off in boxes so members can be socially distanced when they work out. Face masks need to be worn in all common areas.

And per state guidance only one swimmer in a pool lane will be allowed. Lockers have been “tarped off” and showers closed, but cubby holes have been set up for temporary use. Everyone’s temperature will be checked upon arrival and there are now two separate entrances: the regular front entrance if attending an exercise class or workout and a “back entrance” if going to the pool.

“This is only phase one. It’s going to open up,” Major said.

CCBA is abiding by many of the same protocols — New Hampshire and Vermont have different COVID-19 capacity limits but even in normal times the number of people in the building would fall below the new cap, managers say — and has moved cardio equipment so it is properly spaced apart, including setting up equipment in the gymnasium, Artman said.

Artman, who joined CCBA in January, said she has now spent more time working remotely from home than she has spent on site, and she doesn’t expect the pool to be open until the end of the month.

“We shut it down to save money on heating. We fired it up again but the water was 53 degrees and it only moves up one degree per day ... it could be a couple weeks yet,” she said.

Taking a cautious approach to reopening, the River Valley Club in Lebanon now has its salon and barber shop reopened (reservation required) and next will bring back its nail technician, owner Elizabeth Asch said.

RVC has set up a tent in the parking lot where fitness classes and personal training are conducted and the FitKids child care center is reopening Monday, but otherwise Asch said she is in no rush. She has been operating with a skeleton crew of seven people — RVC employed 240 people before it shut down on March 20 — and said she believes it “makes sense to move slowly ... if anything I’m going to watch how others do it and see how it goes.”

Friday also marks the reopening of Hanover restaurants Molly’s and Jesse’s with outdoor dining. Owner Anthony Barnett said they will open indoor dining on Monday.

But diners going to Jesse’s will notice a change: The salad bar has been removed and replaced with tables. “Maybe some day we’ll get to bring it back,” Barnett said. “It’s a big deal for people.”

Also, although the tavern rooms will be open, seating at the bar is now prohibited, and both Molly’s and Jesse’s have switched to disposable paper menus. Staff and diners all will be required to wear masks — except when eating, of course — and staff members must have their temperature checked before being allowed to enter and go to work.

“We had our run-through and COVID-19 training today,” Barnett said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s going to be a challenge, but our team members have been great.”

Mascoma Bank’s 28 local branches, which had been only offering drive-thru service since March, reopened their branch lobbies on Monday, and even put its New Hampshire employees through the Vermont Occupational Health & Safety Administration’s online employee COVID-19 training program, said Samantha Pause, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

Customers don’t have to make an appointment to visit a branch, but Pause said anyone entering the buildings will have a temperature check and the usual items seen in branch lobbies — deposit slips, brochures, coffee — have all been removed.

Customers, like the teller behind the counter, are required to wear face masks but will also be asked to remove them for identification purposes when conducting a transaction.

Perhaps more significant than short-term protocols, however, Pause said she sees COVID-19 “accelerating” the shift to online banking and the function of local bank branches, which are all experiencing declining foot traffic.

“We’ve seen a big uptick in the number of customers signing up for our app, online and using video chat which we didn’t have before,” Pause said. “This is totally going to impact the future of the branches.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

Correction

Staff at Molly’s and Jesse’s restaurants in Hanover are undergoing te mperature checks at the door. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported who the COVID-19 safety protocol applied to.




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