YMCAs on the North Olympic Peninsula will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to use facilities beginning in January.
The Olympic Peninsula YMCA’s officials notified members and program participants in Port Angeles, Sequim and Jefferson County via a Dec. 3 email and through postings at the facilities.
“By doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, we are protecting everyone who comes to the YMCA, especially those whose health is compromised,” said Wendy Bart, Olympic Peninsula YMCA CEO, in a press release.
“Many YMCA members and program participants have let us know they will support this effort to protect all those who use our facilities.”
She added that the YMCA’s top priority is “the health and safety of our members, staff, and community.”
Under the requirement, participants ages 12 and older must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in order to use YMCA facilities.
The test must show a negative result within three days prior to visiting, YMCA staff said.
Bart said their leaders made the decision to require vaccines because of the high rates of cases between the two counties keeping the community in the high-risk category for months, and due to a growing concern for a winter surge of cases and the omicron variant.
YMCA officials said those who choose not to be vaccinated or tested can use virtual fitness options through the clubs, or they can put their membership on hold until they are fully vaccinated or until the requirement is lifted.
Medical and/or religious accommodations will not be available for members and participants, YMCA staff said.
All club visitors 5 and older must wear masks indoors, too, under the state public health requirement, they added.
Because of state guidelines designed to contain the coronavirus, YMCA gym facilities in Port Angeles, Sequim and Jefferson County branches closed in mid-November 2020 and reopened in mid-January 2021 under the state’s Phase 1 “Healthy Washington” guidelines.
Membership numbers among the clubs now are about half of what they were prior to the pandemic, Bart said.
“We received federal loans and have received grant funding to support many of the programs we offered to the community during the pandemic,” she said.
“These programs included regularly checking in with senior members to curb social isolation, offering online workouts to keep members active, and providing emergency childcare to families of first responders and essential workers.”
The clubs also provided almost 75,000 meals to prevent child hunger in the past two years, Bart added.
Bart said via email that the YMCA’s local leadership staff and board of directors discussed requiring proof of vaccination in recent months.
“We heard from many YMCA members and participants who stated that they would support this decision,” she said.
To prepare for possible negative reactions, staff attended two de-escalation training sessions from local law enforcement.
“We wanted our staff to have the tools they needed to feel confident when talking to people who didn’t agree with this decision,” Bart said.
“We also made sure we had an efficient system in place to verify once members had provided us with their proof of vaccination.”
YMCAs make decisions at a local level, such as requiring vaccination proof, Bart said, as hundreds of clubs face varying public health requirements based on their community’s risk level, mandates and more.
For more information about the YMCA’s vaccine requirement, visit olympicpeninsulaymca.org/reopening.
For program and membership information, call the YMCA of Sequim at 360-477-4381, the YMCA of Port Angeles at 360-452-9244 or the YMCA of Jefferson County, which includes the Mountain View Pool, at 360-385-5811.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].