Planet Fitness walked back its face mask policy before it could even go into effect. This week, the gym franchise announced that all members would be required to wear a face mask at all times when they were inside, beginning on Aug. 1. However, on Wednesday, the company revised that policy.
According to Planet Fitness’s website, members are still expected to wear a mask inside the gym, “except while actively working out.” The update goes on to say that members should wear masks “when entering and exiting the facility, in between machines and exercises on the gym floor, cleaning, and while in the locker room.” Masks can be taken off if a member is using the shower or tanning room, but the update states firmly: “While you are actively working out, you do not need to have a mask on.”
We love your faces, ALL of them. But in the spirit of community and safety we are requiring all members to wear masks when in-club starting Aug 1st. You can’t mask a good workout so Mask Up and keep moving! Learn more at https://t.co/jqwDmD1Vm4 pic.twitter.com/lS35KxYpLD
— Planet Fitness (@PlanetFitness) July 27, 2020
This raised immediate questions about how this mask policy would be enforced, with many members speculating that it could not possibly be consistent across locations. Employees of the gym chain will be required to wear masks as well, possibly serving as a reminder to members.
Planet Fitness noted that it will be providing disposable masks for those that come without one and asking them to wear it. The company also says that members are welcome to wear masks even when they are actively working out, and in fact provided a list of tips on how to do so.
This is the latest major chain to enact its own mask policy, as the rules on wearing face masks in public places around the U.S. have been inconsistent. Stores like Best Buy and Walmart have instituted similar corporate policies, despite backlash from customers.
According to a report by Poynter, companies are well within their rights to require customers to wear masks on their premises. The policy is no different from the widely-understood “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule. While a medical exemption could theoretically be possible, masks have been shown to not impact breathing in any significant way, so it would likely only apply in extreme cases with a doctor’s note.
Even with masks, gyms like Planet Fitness remain one of the riskiest public places to go as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S. In a discussion with NPR, medical experts like microbiologist Joshua Santarpia discussed the risks of indoor gyms. Santarpia noted that the virus could live much longer in an indoor environment with no humidity, ionization, or sunlight to threaten it, and the enclosed space would prevent it from escaping.
These experts also acknowledged that wearing a mask while exercising would be difficult, and that exercise is important for physical and mental health, including immune function. Still, they asked people to consider outdoor exercise as much as possible.