Gyms during COVID-19: an employee’s perspective
January 25, 2021
You may be wondering: what does the gym look like nowadays? If you are not a gym-goer, then this may be a curiosity of yours, otherwise – those who do go, know the regulations are not only hard to maintain, but make the gym less of a fun, interactive, social event, and more of a dodgy, stressful in-and-out type of situation.
I work at a gym in Minnesota. The regulations are not easy to manage, especially when the gym is part of a national chain, where decisions on the COVID-19 response are handed down from corporate – and corporate is based halfway across the country in its own sleuth of regulations. Most of these regulations are handed down with little heads-up in advance, and gyms do not know when the next decision is coming (i.e. when this or that amenity will open) it is all left up to the hands of corporate, and few dates are given in advance; COVID-19 is an ever-changing situation, so set-in-stone decisions/timelines rarely get made.
As far are regulations are concerned for Minnesota, there are a handful, and the largest issue I have witnessed currently is: patrons who take mask regulations as a personal attack, or those who have decided to become mask police, instead of directing disputes towards an employee.
For the state regulations on gyms, “Gym capacity remains capped at 25 percent, but facilities can now increase their maximum capacity to 150. Group classes are permitted with a maximum of 25 people, as long as appropriate distancing can be observed. Masks are required for everyone at all times, even while exercising. You must maintain nine feet of distance from other individuals. Machines are also required to be spread nine feet apart,” as stated by Stay Safe MN.
Stay Safe MN also has a list of recommendations to patrons, “Wear a mask or cloth face covering at all times: when you arrive, when you leave, and while you’re exercising. Do not shake hands, hold hands, or have other physical contact with people outside your household…” this list continues on, but the gist is all you need – for more information on the gym regulations, visit staysafe.mn.gov.
Additionally, pools are capped at 25 percent capacity as of Jan. 4. All of the above seems fairly manageable – but with a gym capacity capped at 150 and oftentimes few individuals working at a time, it is extremely difficult to manage people, especially with the reluctant wave of anti-mask individuals.
Patrons who sternly object to wear a mask are kindly invited to leave the gym, and the remainder – who will either periodically take their masks off, or slip them below their nose, are kindly reminded.
This is not the issue, however. The issue is that people do not realize that the working individual, who is either A) telling them to put a mask on or B) asking them to leave since they are disobeying, or C) asking them to calm down, and that they’ll handle disputes, nine times out of 10 dislikes the mask regulations just as much as the individual they’re reminding/telling/soothing.
Gym floors are now a place of high contempt – especially for employees enforcing regulations. Oftentimes anti-mask patrons purposefully avoid eye contact with employees, walk away, wave off, yell at, or ignore employees – leaving the employee with the difficult decision of assertively telling the individual to comply, or requiring the individual to exit the gym, and/or possible revokement of gym membership (something I have yet to witness).
For me, a short-statured female who oftentimes closes the gym, I am put in the line of fire for angry, oftentimes very fit/muscular members – most of the time men, but women as well. Men tend to be more direct and threatening, whereas women tend to be more dismissive and frustrated – it is highly uncomfortable, and usually leaves my coworkers and I praying that members will obey state regulations, so that no confrontations need to be made.
From a personal standpoint, I enjoy spending my free-time working out – and consequently acquiring a respiratory system built for high altitudes due to oxygen restriction from my mask. I have personally experienced the typical: sucking my mask into my mouth while breathing hard, coughing until I think I am going to die because I inhaled lint, seeing stars while on the treadmill (if this happens to you, please take a breather), and taking my mask off for a drink of water, then spilling the water in my mask. I have seen it all, experienced it all, and in all honesty – hate it all. Just as much as you do.
Unfortunately, it is my job to also do what the state requires, and that means telling gym-goers to put their mask on when I am on my shift. If I want to keep my club open, I have to do my part (and I would prefer it stay open, so I can continue to be paid). Can you imagine how awkward it is approaching someone, who is in full sprint on a treadmill, and asking them to put a mask on? It is beyond awkward – and it also pains me, because I know how badly they will be gasping for air once its on (or they will take it off the second I turn around, and I will have to ask again).
According to IHRSA, “The WHO (World Health Organization) does not recommend wearing a mask during exercise because it can make breathing more difficult. Additionally, sweat can make the mask wet, which impacts breathing and promotes the growth of microorganisms.”
However, “A new University of Saskatchewan (USask) study has found that exercise performance and blood and muscle oxygen levels are not affected for healthy individuals wearing a face mask during strenuous workouts,” according to the researchers.
The data and proof is all over the place. Other sources such as the Mayo Clinic and the CDC, simply give guidelines for mask wearing while working out, though the Mayo briefly stated it is safe to wear while exercising. Those can be found here and here.
With research that is leaning slightly towards masks being safe for workout, though a lot of uncertainty – the state made its call on the condition that exercising causes harsher breathing, causing respiratory droplets to be propelled further into the air than when breathing normally.
Gyms are places of low transmission – and that is because majority of patrons comply with guidelines, and staff are working extremely hard to keep equipment disinfected, masks on, and social distance enforced.
Though we all wish COVID-19 could simply be over with, and we could all burn the masks – it just is not going to happen any time soon. Gym employees put their health on the line so that individuals can get the workout they need – and deserve – to stay healthy. They are not present to politicize the disease, they are there to do what they are told.
Next time you are in a gym that requires you follow these regulations, please play it safe, follow their rules, and please, I beg of you, do not make the employees suffer because of it.
Employees oftentimes have zero control over their gym’s regulations or their club’s timeline for opening facilities to full capacity – employees are uncertain just like you, and are desperately trying to keep their gym open, so that they can keep their job – during a nationwide economic, financial, and health crisis.