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Navigating the CDC’s New Mask Guidelines at Your Gym

It is now safe for fully vaccinated people to “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing” except where required by state and local laws, rules, and regulations and/or local business and workplace guidance.

On May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on masks and face coverings. In a reversal from guidelines released a few weeks prior, the new guidelines say it is now safe for fully vaccinated people to “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing” except where required by state and local laws, rules, and regulations and/or local business and workplace guidance.

This article outlines key considerations as club operators navigate this new guidance.

1. State and local policies still have precedence

The CDC guidance, while important for informing policy, is not itself a change to any existing laws, rule, or regulations. Before considering any decisions about masks in your business, check state guidelines. Some states have already removed mask mandates broadly, while other states have set a timeline for doing so. For example, Massachusetts announced it will lift all restrictions on May 29. In some states, new laws are emerging limiting the ability of localities and government entities to enact mask requirements. In Texas, counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, and government officials cannot require mask wearing.

IHRSA is tracking mask guidance by state and will continue to make updates as policies change.

However, this law does not apply to independent businesses. According to the CDC guidance, even if your state has removed or is removing mask mandates, businesses can still set policies requiring members to wear them some or all of the time.

2. It may be safe to remove masks—but are your members ready?

A key consideration for deciding whether to rollback mask requirements is going to be the comfort level and perspectives of your members and community. Mask compliance and opinions about masks vary widely across the country and within communities. Some people will undoubtedly be excited to remove masks, but many still feel fine wearing them and may even be more comfortable with their ongoing use for a little while longer.

As state regulations have eased, some clubs have begun making masks optional for vaccinated persons in response to the guidelines. For example, Saco Sport & Fitness opted to make masks optional indoors based on their state’s guidance, however in a newsletter to members they advised people to follow the CDC guidelines and encouraged unvaccinated members to continue mask-wearing. They also made a point to offer that staff would wear masks when interacting with a member if the member requests it. Rochester Athletic Club took a similar approach, setting a mask optional policy and encouraging members to be respectful of one another’s personal space and decisions regarding masks.

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Consider taking a quick poll of your members (this can be done using private Facebook groups or free survey software) to assess where they are in terms of readiness. This may be especially relevant for health clubs with family or children’s programming, given that children under 12 are still not eligible for any vaccines.

3. How will you navigate proof of vaccination?

If clubs do decide to adhere to the CDC recommendations and allow vaccinated individuals—both staff and members—to go unmasked, they must consider how they will deal with proof of vaccination. There are three pathways here:

  1. Require proof of vaccination by asking to see a person’s vaccination card. However, some states have passed legislation banning vaccine passports, so operators should check their state and local laws before asking for documentation or proof of vaccine status. This could also open the club up to legal challenges in the future.

  2. Require a member to attest to their vaccination status at check in, on a form, or in the club’s app. The ability to do this may also depend on how state laws about vaccine passports are written, and may also be challenged in court later on.

  3. Rely on the honor system, asking non-vaccinated members to continue wearing their masks. Some clubs have also encouraged anyone who feels more comfortable wearing a mask to continue doing so if they choose.

It is important to note that it is not a HIPAA violation to ask if a staff person or member has been vaccinated.

4. What will you do about other safety protocols?

The new CDC guidance has put the spotlight on masks, but the guidance also says fully vaccinated people can also avoid physical distancing. In many places, requirements pertaining to other safety measures are also being rolled back.

As you navigate the new changes, consider these 5 Considerations for Rolling Back Your Gym’s COVID Protocols.

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Author avatar

Alexandra Black Larcom @ihrsagetactive

Alexandra Black Larcom, MPH, RD, LDN, is the Senior Manager of Health Promotion & Health Policy for IHRSA. She spends her days working on resources and projects that help IHRSA clubs offer effective health programs in their communities, and convincing lawmakers that policies promoting exercise are an excellent idea. Outside the office you'll most likely find Alex at the gym, running on the Charles River, or, in the fall, by a TV cheering on the Florida Gators.