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A Month After Reopening, MAC Feels ‘Safe’ But Poses Some Logistical Challenges, Students Say

The MAC officially reopened Sept. 28, adopting safety protocols approved under current state and local COVID-19 guidelines.
The MAC officially reopened Sept. 28, adopting safety protocols approved under current state and local COVID-19 guidelines. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Leah J. Teichholtz and Lauren L. Zhang, Contributing Writers

More than a month after the Malkin Athletic Center reopened to those living on Harvard’s campus, students and staff say the pandemic-era gym largely feels safe, though its new systems and safety protocols pose some challenges.

The MAC officially reopened Sept. 28, adopting safety protocols approved under current state and local COVID-19 guidelines. To use the gym, students must book hour-long workout sessions, which are interspersed with 30-minute disinfection periods. Safety protocols require everyone to wear a face covering while using all parts of the center except for the pool, according to the Harvard Recreation website.

Harvard Recreation staff member Ariel E. Wahl said reopening took “a lot of work in the summer” in order to adhere to Cambridge’s social distancing guidelines. Campus Services’s Environmental Health and Safety arm also needed to approve all health protocols, according to Wahl.

“We had to reorganize all the weights and make sure that everything was distanced enough, because here in Cambridge, for cardio, it has to all be 14 feet apart, which is very limiting because we have very small spaces,” she said.

Emily R. Dobrindt ’24, who uses the pool and the gym in the MAC, said she feels “super safe” in the facilities under the COVID-19 health protocols.

“They’re doing a great job. They're really doing the best they can,” she said. “It's so much better than having to go to another gym or finding somewhere else.”

T. William McQuiston Jr. ’24, who also frequents the MAC, agreed the space feels much safer than other gyms in Cambridge, thanks to “extensive” cleaning measures combined with Harvard’s broader success in preventing the virus’s spread.

Apart from the frequent cleanings, Octavia I. Tyagi ’24 said limits on the MAC’s capacity have helped her feel safe while working out.

“There’s usually no one even anywhere close to you. I usually don’t even see other people,” she said.

But the gym’s reduced capacity combined with the first come, first served allocation of machines and space have also presented a challenge, some students say.

“You can only have three people in each weight room,” McQuiston said. “There’s only two weight rooms, so if you’re not one of the first six people, you can’t get a weight room.”

Though Dobrindt said she has never had trouble booking a gym slot or finding a treadmill, she said accessing the pool can be difficult.

“You have to book like a week out because the slots go so quick,” she said.

While other workout options are available, McQuiston added that it is “really, really hard to get any serious cardio” while wearing a face mask.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “If anything, I just wish they would loosen up some of the restrictions or add more weight rooms.”

“But I understand that they kind of have their hands tied behind their back,” McQuiston added.

Despite limitations due to Cambridge and Harvard COVID-19 regulations, Wahl said the recreation staff is hoping to “work out other options” to improve students’ experiences, like a reservation system specifically for the weight rooms.

“We’re trying,” Wahl said. “We will hopefully have something better by spring.”

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