Some gym-goers want to suspend membership over mask requirements

Posted November 24, 2020 4:38 p.m. EST
Updated November 25, 2020 8:49 a.m. EST

— When North Carolina's mask mandate expands to encompass even those actively working out indoors, members of the YMCA and Planet Fitness will have already warmed up to the challenge.

The YMCA of the Triangle started making masks mandatory last week, while Planet Fitness has required them at 26 North Carolina locations since July.

Steve Kindler Jr., president and CEO of the company that operates Planet Fitness nationwide, said, "It is a very polarized topic, but our members have done a great job of embracing what we are asking them to do in the short term for the ultimate long-term viability of our industry and their wellness. They know the alternative, which none of us want."

If coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, fitness centers could be forced to close.

Fred Bryant, COO of Orange Theory, said, "That's just going to be the price of admission. You'll have to understand the rules and abide by them, or else you're not going to be able to utilize the facility, and that's just going to be a hard line we're going to have to draw."

Research shows that, when people breathe more rapidly and more deeply like they do during exercise, they expel more respiratory droplets.

"When someone is breathing vigorously, your saliva can get aerosolized. That means, instead of large droplets, your saliva can actually turn into smaller droplets that hang around and spread," said Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk of the UNC School of Medicine.

Gym owners, like Ben Wright at F45 Training in Raleigh, worry the new mandate will put a greater strain on business.

Some will choose to exercise outdoors, and gym owners worry it's another blow to their business, which had to shut down for months as the pandemic built.

"We have already received multiple emails from members wanting to suspend their membership," Wright said.

F45 member Carolyn Schmidt said she would stick with it. "It’s not ideal, but it’s what we need to do right now."

Cassie Blackwelder decided to give it a try during class.

"It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be," she said. "I think that’s partially because I have a good mask that I like to wear, and it fits well."

The recommendation: Buy a mask from a company known for making athletic apparel.

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