As more Americans become fully vaccinated and cases begin to decline in many regions, some fitness centers are wondering when they can start to allow members to exercise without face coverings. Some states have removed all restrictions, leaving the decision up to businesses, while others still have mandates in place. The CDC has been slow to ease mask recommendations in any indoor setting, and has only just eased them outdoors for those who are fully vaccinated.
Removing outdoor mask mandates has gained much more traction recently, given evidence that transmission is much more likely indoors, with experts in the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and other media discussing the merits of easing outdoor mask wearing. Many policymakers are likely grappling to balance the limited evidence available with evolving public sentiment.
States who have not removed restrictions have begun outlining their timelines for doing so - for example, Rhode Island will lift most by Memorial Day, and Massachusetts will return to almost normal by August 1. However, neither state removes indoor mask requirements even as all other restrictions are removed. In states with restrictions still in place, mask wearing is close to last on the list of restrictions to ease.
However wearing a mask inside a gym is a different issue from universal mandates for places like the grocery store, movie theaters, and crowded concert venues. We know crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces (like parties or sports arenas) are high risk. We know outdoor, non-crowded spaces are relatively safe. Less is known about clubs specifically, but available evidence suggests clubs with good ventilation and other safety measures are relatively low risk venues for COVID-19 transmission. The question is: what does this mean for mask policies in gyms?
Mask wearing is still relatively popular, and effective
Given the CDC’s most updated guidance, it is clear the public health community is not ready to recommend an easing of widespread mask use. Part of the reason is that it is fairly easy to find data that masks work. It's harder to find evidence that their benefit is negligible, or that they have become redundant.
As far as the pandemic goes, the U.S. is currently at a crossroads, where more contagious variants are increasing as a proportion of infections at the same time as more and more people are getting vaccinated. We are in a race to get a large number of people vaccinated before cases can increase again, and while the signs are good, we are not at the finish line.