At the outset of the pandemic, gyms and health clubs were forced to close as local governments enacted emergency orders that restricted indoor gatherings. When gyms reopened in May 2020 in Florida, many adopted new coronavirus safety policies in accordance with local regulations, including requirements that members and guests wear masks while entering and exiting the building and, in some cases, during workouts.
Now, after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended all COVID emergency orders last week and limited local governments' ability to impose pandemic restrictions, most major health clubs have made masks optional at their locations in Florida.
Spokespersons for YouFit, Crunch, Planet Fitness, and LA Fitness tell New Times that as of this week, they have lifted their mask mandates in Florida but will continue to follow other COVID safety guidelines, including encouraging social distancing and frequently sanitizing equipment.
A spokesperson for Crunch Fitness, a fitness chain with locations in Miami Beach and Cutler Bay, expressed gratitude to DeSantis for lifting restrictions that some gym owners felt were interfering with their livelihood.
"We want to thank Governor DeSantis for bringing a plan forward to continue lifting the restrictions for gyms and health clubs in Florida," the spokesperson told New Times via email. "Our employees' and members' safety is our priority and following the suspension of all remaining COVID restrictions by the governor of Florida, Crunch South Beach encourages mask use while in the gym, but they are no longer mandatory. We will still be implementing our cleaning protocols as well as social-distancing on the gym floor, in class, and in the locker rooms."
Jesus Toledo, operations manager for the LA Fitness at 1901 W. 39th St. in Hialeah, tells New Times that the company's Florida locations were instructed last week that masks were now optional for members.
"Corporate decided it was optional for members if they want to wear masks or not since we're a private company," Toledo says.
Another popular gym chain, 24 Hour Fitness, has made masks optional for gym-goers in Florida, as well, according to reporting from WPLG Local 10.
The luxury fitness chain Equinox made a slightly different announcement, declaring that masks are recommended but not required at its Miami Beach and Brickell locations.
While last year's gym reopenings were celebrated by people eager for a physical outlet during the pandemic lockdowns, some gym members lamented that mask requirements were too burdensome, arguing that wearing masks while exercising made it difficult to breathe. In some instances in other parts of the country, mask-related disagreements at gyms turned violent.
Mask-wearing while exercising is safe for people without breathing issues such as chronic lung diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic, though it may impede athletic performance.
Despite the removal of COVID restrictions in Florida, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to recommend wearing a mask while in public settings with people who are not in your household. The most recent Miami-Dade County COVID safety guidelines recommend that gyms encourage outdoor exercise sessions when possible and maintain social-distancing between gym members and fitness instructors.