Minnesota businesses starting to drop pandemic-related precautions

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Minnesota businesses are starting to drop pandemic-related precautions as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions.

"We are really happy that we’re seeing a little bit of normalcy come back," said Nikki Schmidt, owner of Salon Elite in Woodbury.

When hair salons were allowed to reopen last June, Schmidt said they invested thousands of dollars in plexiglass and dividers to help keep customers separated. Those have remained in place for almost a year.

But when the state lifts distancing requirements at the end of the month, Salon Elite plans to remove most of those barriers.

"We do move around our clients a lot and they would get in the way. We’re bumping into them and people are tripping over them. That will be one thing we are very happy to get rid of," Schmidt said. "We’ve all been saying over the last couple of months, ‘OK, we’re ready to move on. We want our space back.’"

The salon will keep plexiglass up in tight quarters, such as their manicure and shampooing areas.

Schmidt said she is being thoughtful in deciding which precautions to keep and which to eliminate.

She said employees will continue masking, at least for now, and the salon will continue regular disinfecting.

Customers will be free to choose whether or not to mask up, based on their vaccination status.

And the salon has decided to do away with temperature checks at the door.

"We never had to turn somebody away for a fever. Never," Schmidt said. "So now that it’s been a year later, we felt that it really wasn’t necessary."

Life Time, based in Minnesota, is making changes across its health clubs as well.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS visited the Eagan location, where plexiglass barriers and high-tech thermometers went into storage several days ago.

Vaccinated members and guests can now exercise mask-free, and many machines that were temporarily taken out of commission due to social distancing requirements will soon be back in use.

"There is a new energy in our clubs, with our members, with our team members, that we haven’t seen in a long time," Life Time spokeswoman Natalie Bushaw said.

Bushaw noted while the company is pleased to return to normal operations, the pandemic paved the way for ideas and innovations that will stick around.

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"We’ve made a lot of changes over the course of the last year. The pandemic, in a way, was a gift for us to rethink what we’re doing," Bushaw said.

For example, group fitness classes at Life Time have required reservations ever since the start of the pandemic. Bushaw said the reservations policy will remain in place, which gives members the added benefit of knowing there is space in a class for them.

"You also don’t have to get your own equipment anymore. We clean it, we set it out for you and we put it away for you. Those things have been new opportunities for us that are carrying on in what we are defining now as our ‘new normal,’" Bushaw explained. "So the new post-pandemic normal actually looks better than the pre-pandemic normal. In fact, we’re seeing some of the highest ratings and member satisfaction than we have in our entire company history."

Bushaw said digital memberships and virtual classes will also continue to be offered for those who would like to work out at home or on the go.

Minnesotans told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are also adapting to the swift changes at local businesses, knowing precautions may look different from place to place.

"It was a little wishy-washy, kind of confusing, but if you put it in the businesses’ hands, you respect the decisions they make," said Spencer Scott, who visited a pizza shop Thursday in Woodbury. "But for the most part, I know I’m ready for things to get back to normal."