As our communities begin reopening amidst this pandemic, float centers are straddling a line between wanting to run floats and making sure they’re keeping their customers and staff safe. The collective social fatigue and stress are palpable, and it’s apparent to many within the industry that our customers are feeling the absence of floating in their lives.
On the other hand, the overwhelming consensus from public health officials is that reopening quickly could be worse than having never taken precautions in the first place, and that a measured approach is required to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
So how do float centers reopen and make their businesses financially stable, while also making sure that they are providing a safe environment for their customers? Float centers around the world have already been reopening and started implementing their own post-quarantine procedures. Graham and Ashkahn chatted with Kim Hannan, owner of Mindfull Solutions and co-host of Art of the Float, about her float center reopening. On Graham’s birthday episode, we also discussed with Gloria Morris (FloatSixty) and the Gurleys (Infinity Float Center) about what reopening looks like. They’re both great opportunities to see just how careful we need to be when making these plans.
In Portland, OR (where we’re located) float centers were allowed to open as of June 19. We were a little late to the party, but Float On was able to re-open with many of the following precautions in place. There are also some good resources out there already to help you in your own decisions about how to handle reopening.
The Float Tank Association created a document outlining some policy change recommendations and the Art of the Float had an entire episode dedicated to reopening. The CDC has issued guidance for reopening aquatic facilities as well.
We’ve broken down the areas of focus for reopening to make it easier to reference and scan. Consider this a living document. As we get new information about how to reopen, we’ll include it here. Hopefully this is a helpful guide for those of you still developing a reopening strategy. It’s important at this point in time to make sure that you can create a procedure that you feel confident in. Yes, we all want to provide floats to people, but don’t reopen your business if you’re not confident that you can do so safely.
Providing floats is not worth risking the health of yourself, your employees, or your customers.
To start with, you’ll have to take your center out of hibernation. There are a few steps involved here, but fortunately we’ve done this enough times that we’ve already got this handy checklist ready to go.
Technical / Facility
- Refill your tanks. Most everyone reading this likely knows how to refill a float tank, but in case anyone needs or wants a refresher, check out our blog post on how to drain and fill a float tank.
- Rebalance your tanks. Once you get your tank refilled, you need to get the water chemistry back in sorts. Again, most of you know how this is done, but for anyone that wants to get a bit of a review, here’s our article on testing and maintaining float tank solution.
- Check all lights, power, and fuses
- Check that your HVAC is running properly, and air is moving through all the vents / registers
- Pour water down ALL of your drains to fill the P-traps and prevent sewer gas from coming up.
- Test that your water heater is working properly and hitting the correct temperatures in the showers.
- If you use a recirculation pump for faster hot water delivery from a tanked water heater, make sure it’s also on and working.
- Check that your phone is working, and that calls and voicemails aren’t forwarding somewhere else.
Checking Web Presence
- Check that your website is up and has an appropriate homepage image.
- Check that your online booking is working properly from your website through checkout.
- Make sure your Google, Facebook, and Yelp pages (as well as any other directories you’re a part of) show that you’re open, and that the hours are correct.
- Check your desk / help email to make sure that it doesn’t have an auto-responder enabled.
Distancing: Shop Changes
Rethink your flow and how people interact with the physical space of your center:
- Removed or Reduced Seating: Many centers, including Float On, are removing the temptation to zen out in your shop by taking away your seating or making it inaccessible. Other centers are reducing their seating to chairs with hard surfaces that are easily disinfected.
- Remove things customers might touch: Remove food and drink stations from public access. Also put away any books / toys / tabletop items you might usually have out. Consider placing retail so customers can’t actually touch items, making them available by request only.
- Remove reusable items from the open: Towels, robes, sandals, and any other amenities should be covered and inaccessible from customers. They should only have access to those things in their room, and they can ask the staff if they need anything else.
- Stagger your schedule: Consider staggering your floats to reduce the chances of customer interaction. There are many different ways to set this up: some centers are doing 2 tanks at a time with an hour or more between staggered start times. At Float On we’re staggering our start times by just 5 minutes, keeping our tanks more or less on the same schedule while still allowing customers to come in one at a time. (Keep in mind that pump noise while floats are in progress can be distracting if your soundproofing isn’t up to the task.)
- Only scheduled foot traffic: Having multiple groups of customers in the same space should be avoided as much as possible. Move to a system that only allows people with appointments inside your business. Consider offering curbside pickups customers who are just looking for retail.
- Reduce interaction with doors: In a similar vein, try to create systems that make it so your customers reduce contact with door knobs. Some people have been using foot door openers their front door. Consider leaving doors to float rooms (and tanks) open for your customers to reduce the number of times they have to interact with anything.
- Motion sensor water drinking station: Providing water is important for customer comfort and health. At Float On we’ve upgraded to a touchless drinking station for customer’s water bottles. We also have compostable cups on hand that employees can serve to customers if they don’t have a water bottle.
Distancing: Digital Changes
- Online Waivers: Implementing digital waivers so people can access them ahead of time via their computers and smartphones is a prudent step to further reduce exposure. While waivers don’t offer blanket legal protection, they are a good way to communicate expectations with your clientele and offer peace of mind to anyone who may have concerns about how you’re handling operations at this time.
Pre-payment Online: Put a strong emphasis on payment methods that don’t require direct interaction. People can prepay online, or pay by credit card over the phone.
- Make a Walkthrough Video: Many centers already have a video walkthrough, but if you don’t, now is the perfect time to create one. Encourage customers to watch it ahead of time, or while they wait for their appointment. Plan on having a wall mounted screen or projector (as opposed to an ipad you hand to people) in your shop to show the video to any customers who didn’t manage to watch it first.
Before you open your doors and let in customers, it’s a good idea to take a few days to test everything by opening up just for owners and staff members.
Start with some test floats. Get employees in the tanks to make sure they’re running smoothly and to dust off any cobwebs from months of inactivity. From there, consider opening up to just your members for a period of time before letting the general public in.
- Social distancing training for all employees: Many float centers are used to working in close quarters with another person. Make sure that all employees are trained to stay at least 6-feet away from customers and each other.
- Give the rooms time to settle: We strongly recommend not allowing employees to go into rooms for a set amount of time after a customer (15-25 minutes) to allow droplets to settle. This is a recommendation directly from the CDC. It will definitely extend your turnover time, but more on that further down.
- Taking Employee Temperatures: Make sure employees take their temperatures before work. At Float On, we purchased personal under tongue thermometers for staff to take their temperature at home before shifts, and we have an infrared touchless thermometer for taking temperatures in shop. If they’ve got a fever, they shouldn’t be working. Plan accordingly.
- Masks for staff: Get masks for everyone. Many states and counties are requiring masks for all staff members as part of reopening, and this practice can be extremely helpful in mitigating risk of infection. If you want to take an extra precaution, upgrade the masks to face shields, especially for any employee working closely with customers. We are getting two cloth masks, with HEPA filter pockets, per employee, and we have face shields on hand for employees who want extra protection.
- Gloves for staff: Gloves can be an additional level of precaution, but they’re not as high a safety priority as masks do. They are, of course, indispensable for normal disinfection and cleaning around your center, and making sure you have plenty of disposable gloves available is helpful for your employees to maintain their workflow and feel safe.
- Set up for easy disinfection: Make it easier for your staff to keep the center clean. Have designated areas on doors, drawers, and anywhere else people can touch so that you know exactly what needs to be cleaned after each shift. Get washable keyboards for your computers. Although it hurts to not be as eco-friendly, get disposable versions of almost anything that you can. Make sure you have a sanitation station for thorough cleaning of anything that needs to be reused.
- Decontaminate Your Space: Treat everything a customer touches as contaminated. Take extra levels of caution with towels, used personal hygiene supplies, etc. Employees shouldn’t touch anything a customer touches without PPE or immediately washing their hands.
- Reduced staffing: One of the easiest ways to have fewer people interacting in a space is to have fewer people in that space. Consider minimizing how many employees work per shift. At Float On, we’ve gone from two down to only one employee per shift.
- Have clients wait in their cars: Let them know you’ll call them when their room is ready for them. If this isn’t a viable option in your area, waiting outside with 6ft distance markers is an alternative and is becoming very commonplace for many businesses.
- Ask clients about possible symptoms: Before they come into your space, ask customers if they’ve had a fever, cough, or other symptoms of covid. These questions are often being mandated by states or counties. At Float On, we’re doing this when we call them to let them in to their appointment from their car, or at the door before we let them into the space if asking over the phone isn’t an option.
- Required masks for customers: Even if it’s not a requirement in your area, have customers wear masks inside your center. It’s a good idea to have disposable masks on hand for customers that don’t bring their own.
- Require temperature checks for customers: Touchless infrared forehead thermometers are accurate, and you can get a decent one in the $60-200 range. We recommend getting a slightly nicer model, and a cheaper backup just in case it fails. If a customer has a fever of 100.3 or higher, they can’t come in.
- NOTE – Setting Customer Expectations: With all of these new changes, make sure that you keep your customers well informed of everything ahead of time so that they’re not surprised when they come in. Extra announcements at booking, custom emails, and personal call-aheads are all an important part of making sure your plans go smoothly.
Disinfection: The Tanks
Fortunately, coronavirus does not seem to like heat and humidity and does not seem to spread at all in water (or saturated salt solution). For the outside of the tank, disinfect it with hard surface disinfectant between every customer.
For the interior of the tank, we recommend disinfecting the walls and ceiling (or lid) between each customer. The problem is that this can be time consuming – here’s a list of ways that float centers are cleaning the walls of their tanks a little more efficiently and effectively:
- Disinfectant: The classic. Basically get inside the tank and wipe down the surfaces (as always, allowing for a proper kill time). Or you can get a rag-on-a-stick style setup and wipe down the surfaces from outside the tank. There’s a wide range of products that implement something like this, and some of them are pretty advanced, but basically this is focused on doing a physical wipe down with some sort of cleaning agent.
- Steam cleaning: Steam cleaning seems like a surprisingly good option for disinfecting the interior walls of a float tank, and this is what we’ve been using at Float On. It has a quick kill time, it removes salt in addition to disinfecting, and there are different attachments that allow you to extend the handle or scrub around the scum line. These have different features, and we recommend looking for one with a high enough temperature to disinfect, a continuous fill tank, a cart to roll it through your space, and possibly dry steam technology (which we won’t delve into here, but involves using mineral crystal from tap water to disinfect, and is worth looking into). On the downside, steam cleaning does take some time per tank, and depending on your model it can be slightly physically demanding to reach nooks and crannies with the extension.
(Note: If you’re considering using a steam cleaning, be sure to check with your manufacturer to make sure it won’t damage the interior of your float tank.)
- UV light disinfection: UV lights that you set up to clean the surfaces of an entire room have been used in hospitals and such before the age of COVID, but they’re obviously gaining in popularity now. This could be a good solution for disinfecting the interior of the float tank between clients, as long as you can safely suspend the UV light in the tank (either by safely mounting it, or by purchasing a unit that comes with a rolling stand). As with all UV cleaning systems, products come in a huge range of efficacy, with powerful units often being decently expensive. If you go this route, make sure you actually have a system powerful enough to disinfect the inside of your float tank. While UV is great at killing many things, it lacks the benefits you get from physically scrubbing a surface that happens with some of these other cleaning methods. That can be especially important right above the waterline, where body oils and such are likely to coat the walls and protect pathogens from the effects of UV.
- Ozone: There are some concerns about ozone safety if you go this route. Even small amounts of ozone in the air can be hazardous to breathe, especially on a regularly basis, so blasting a room full of it can be dangerous to your staff if you’re not taking proper precautions. That said ozone does really well at disinfection, and if you’ve really done your research and have ozone sensors to detect dangerous levels, this is an option.
Disinfection: The Rooms
Fortunately, float centers already have stringent cleaning practices in between customers – as one center posted on social media, “we’ve were disinfecting before it was cool.” That said, here are some tips to make sure you’re at the top of your game:
- Increase disinfectant contact time: Consider extending the time you let your disinfectant sit on surfaces in the rooms. Every EPA registered disinfectant will list a kill time for different types of organisms, and you want to make sure you’re at least meeting that requirement.
- Disinfect anything customers touch: Focus especially on anything customers might interact with: doorknobs, grab rails, handles, buttons, benches, and so on. That said, try to give everything in the room a disinfection pass.
- Motion sensor equipment: This is something that many float centers will already have, but making sure that people can turn lights on or off without touching a surface is another area you can reduce physical contact.
- Extra long filtration cycles: How long is going to depend on your filtration system, but consider extending it to get an additional log reduction in your water treatment.
- Run your filtration system every time someone exits a tank: Additional precautions are meaningless if we sidestep the basics. If you have employees getting in the tanks to clean them, be sure to run your filtration system after they’re in there.
- HVAC improvements: HVAC connects airways of all your rooms, so make sure that your filters are strong enough to protect against COVID-19. We’ve added UV light disinfection to our HVAC system, which helps to clean the air as it passes through the system. This is good not just for deactivating viruses and bacteria, but also for controlling mold and mildew growth in our damp environments.
Lots of centers are worried about how comfortable customers are going to feel about coming in to float while this pandemic is ongoing. The good news is that float tank centers are, by our nature, generally safer than many other businesses and wellness modalities. Here are a few things to remind your customers about as they’re considering whether or not to pay you a visit:
- Unmanned: At no point do floaters need to directly interact with practitioners in order to feel the full benefits of floating.
- One Customer at a Time: Only one person goes into a room at a time, and that room is completely disinfected between each session.
- Customer Cleanliness: Customers shower before and after the float.
- Uncongested space: A reduced amount of concurrent clients makes it easier to make sure no one is forced within close proximity of one another.
We’ve noticed that there are several waves of hype as people reopen. Don’t be alarmed if your initial opening momentum goes through ups and downs with news cycles and general comfort levels.
Less Floats Offered
The end result of lots of these changes is that you’ll likely be reducing your availability by a significant amount. Some areas are requiring services to only operate at a certain capacity. At Float On, our new schedule means we’re only operating at 50% of our normal availability.
Our transitions have gone from half an hour to two hours between floats. All the big changes we’ve planned are time consuming for staff to implement. We’re staggering our schedule and we’re cleaning the insides of the tanks between each float. We’re also thoroughly wiping down all the rooms and lobby services. And we’re doing all of this with only one employee, which is due partially to maintaining as much social distance as possible and partially because at 50% of our usual availability we just can’t financially support two staff members being on shift for the entire day.
Don’t reopen until you feel like you can do it safely (for both your staff and your customers). Operating a float center when things are normal is already challenging. Asking to take on this additional responsibility is even tougher.
This isn’t a definitive list of the precautions you may need in order to keep everyone who comes to your center from getting sick. If you don’t think you can open safely, then please make the consideration of whether you should open at all right now. It does very little good to get people floating again if it risks their health in the long term.
If you have any other suggestions that you think we should include, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know so we can include them here. Stay healthy. Stay salty. And most importantly, stay floaty!