Gym owners grapple with coronavirus amid new state mask regulations

Working out, gyms, masks
Photo credit (Getty Images / cerro_photography)

Starting Friday night at midnight, all across Minnesota masks are required to be worn in public spaces, as Governor Walz laid out in his announcement Wednesday afternoon.

The guidelines that were put forth by the Minnesota Department of Health do have exceptions however.  Some of those seem to leave wiggle room, or are even a bit vague, allowing people in certain situations to avoid wearing a mask. 

Especially when it comes to exercise.  Are you required to wear a mask when you workout?  That answer is no. You can hit the gym, play tennis, or do any exercising without a mask. 

In sections 10.a and 10.b of the governor's Executive Order, it states:

"When participating in organized sports in an indoor business or indoor public space while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering.""When exercising in an indoor business or public indoor space such as a gym or fitness center, while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering, provided that social distancing is always maintained." The level of exertion, of course, is a completely individual thing.  It gives owners and members of a gym, instructors, and people participating in sports the right to remove masks at any time.  It allows gyms to leave it up to the member if they want to wear a mask, or not to wear one. 

It also notes organized sports, which is why you'll see Twins players at Target Field able to stand at home plate, next to a catcher and an umpire, without wearing a mask.  And potentially this fall, football players from Pop Warner through the NFL playing in Minnesota without masks.  

Gyms have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 shutdowns.  Lifetime CEO Bahram Akradi told WCCO Radio in May, "We're losing 50 million a month in EBITDA. I can tell you if it's a month or two or three you can put it together and come back. This is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life. I've never seen the revenue go from maximum to zero in one day." 

Other gym owners have been frustrated that they weren't part of the first phase of repopening, and by the regulations imposed on them by the state. 

Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon told WCCO, "Give people the opportunity to understand how our businesses operate. We've invited them to visit our clubs and other fitness centers across the state to see the modifications we can make. I promise you, we are every bit as healthy, if not healthier, than Home Depot, Target, a grocery store, and hair salons. Those businesses should be open too, but we're willing to make those modifications. It's very fair and absolutely necessary on behalf of our small business owners across the state."

The best advice health experts have given to those who want to return to the gym is to simply stay away, really far away, from others.  If breathing heavily, some experts have said you need to be at least double the recommended physical distancing guidelines of six feet apart.  

They are also saying to avoid group exercise where it can be difficult to maintain at least six feet of seperation.  Those group workouts are extremely popular at many small gyms across Minnesota, where they build their clientele on group training.   

One of those is Justin Yule, owner of the Transformation Club in Chanhassen.  They've set up their workout space to accomodate those distance requirements.  

"We've created individual training spaces for each client to accommodate physical distancing as well as eliminate any sharing of equipment," said Yule. "Per the Governor's order, masks will be required in all common areas and are optional while working out."

There are some states that do require you to wear a mask while working out.  Hawaii just changed their approach, and is now requiring masks when you do workout after what they describe as a "superspreader" infected over 20 people at a workout facility.  The mayor of Honolulu said, "If you can’t do an exercise because it is too strenuous, then you don’t do the exercise.” 

That would be a deadly blow to smaller gyms already hurting to get people to come back, something officials in Minnesota are hoping to avoid.