Area gyms are asking D.C. to review its mask mandate and requesting parity for the fitness industry.
Bryan Myers, CEO and president of SolidCore, and other gyms in the District sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt on Monday asking them to examine available data and reconsider the mask mandate as it applies to gyms.
D.C. returned to wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status on July 31, amid rising community spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
Fitness community members in D.C. had a discussion in late July and early August when the mandate was reinstated, and Myers said they elected to take a wait-and-see approach.
“We wanted to see how the other markets that were pursuing a different approach, like New York and Philadelphia, and allowing vaccination mandates rather than mask mandates, how they fared with the pandemic,” Myers said.
And what they saw were increases in performance when vaccination mandates were instituted instead of mask mandates, he said.
“Our clientele on the ground tell us that they feel more comfortable coming into an environment where it’s comfortable for them to do the workout because they’re not wearing a mask. And they also know that they are protected, from a public health perspective, because everyone else around them is vaccinated,” Myers said.
The gym owners are saying that the studies D.C. used to make the decision to return to the wearing of masks were based on data from early to mid-2020 and involved people who ignored Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local quarantine guidelines while going to the gym. They also said that D.C. outbreak data shows that fewer than 1% of coronavirus patients had been to a gym or fitness studio.
Moreover, they said that the data D.C. used to make the decision was before the widespread availability of vaccines.
“It is illogical to continue to make decisions based on data that is 12+ months old when vaccinations over the last 6 months have drastically changed the landscape,” the letter said.
Chris Perrin, who co-owns Cut Seven on Rhode Island Avenue NW, believes that one of the reasons gyms did not get an exception from the mask mandate is because of perception.
“It’s not based so much on data. It seems like there’s just this perception that because people are sweaty, breathing heavy, working hard, that there’s going to be an increase transmission. And that’s just not what the data is showing,” Perrin said, adding that D.C.’s decision is affecting a lot of businesses.
Request for parity
Gym owners are asking for parity with other industries. While bars, restaurants and clubs are subject to the same mandate, in practice, customers in these venues do not have to wear a mask as long as “they have a drink somewhere nearby,” the letter said.
“We are not advocating that there is anything wrong with what is happening in other industries or that there be a change to the management of those industries/venues. We are simply advocating that we be treated the same as they are.”
Perrin said they are looking for a fair decision-making process, and they want to know what data is being used to support the decisions that are being made.
“Where we are being extremely careful, the fitness industry had some outliers in the beginning in, you know, early 2020. And those are the examples that are being used, it seems, to make these decisions,” Perrin said.
‘Devastating financial impact’ to gyms
The gym owners said the mask mandate for fitness studios and gyms resulted in a “devastating financial impact to these businesses — many of which are small and locally owned.”
At SolidCore, Myers said he saw only a 15% decline in business, but he’s heard numbers as high as 50% to 75% after the mask mandate for other gyms.
At Cut Seven, Perrin said the mask mandate severely affected attendance, which is currently below 40%.
“Prior to the mask mandate … we had a waitlist, it was well above 100%. It’s really troubling, because now we are in a position where we could lose our business. Whereas prior to the mask mandate, it did look like we were finally seeing numbers return to pre-COVID. And we were feeling financially secure and more secure in our space,” Perrin said.
At SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp, classes are not filling up and nearly empty, the letter said.
The letter said that gyms, especially smaller ones that are locally owned, are at higher risk of losing their space, since landlords are no longer waiving or delaying rent.
Perrin said the fitness industry has been safer than most industries, citing the efforts of leaders to get proper circulation, facilitating social distancing, shutting down, or having people wear masks before there was a mandate
“And we are now forcing our employees and members who want to work out indoors to be vaccinated. So we’ve created our own vaccination passport. We are leading this fight, and we’re being punished for that. It seems like we’re being punished, although we are making all of these efforts,” Perrin said.
WTOP’s has reached out to the D.C. mayor’s office.
WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report.
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