DC gyms push for maskless workouts for vaccinated members

A coalition of D.C. fitness businesses is asking the District to make an exception for vaccinated members from wearing masks while working out.

A coalition of D.C. fitness businesses is asking the District to make an exception for vaccinated members from wearing masks while working out.

The DC Fitness Alliance, which formed last year, recently approached D.C. leaders with an offer that echoes policies enacted in other places, including New York City, “allowing us to move to a vaccinated-only format, but allow our clients in that format to remove their masks,” said Bryan Myers, president of Solid Core.

“We want to get people vaccinated,” said David Von Storch, the president of Vida Fitness.

“If you have two strategies: Strategy A, masks everywhere, please get vaccinated. Strategy B, you must be vaccinated to go to a bar, into a restaurant, into a gym, we believe that we’re going to be more successful getting more people vaccinated with Plan B — and there has to be an incentive for people to get vaccinated.”

He added: “That incentive, of course, is not having to wear a mask.”

The return of D.C.’s mask mandate is a result of rising community spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. The DC Fitness Alliance said it understands why the District took the action it did, but it points out that “we have not had a single super-spread event in a gym or a studio, period,” said Van Storch.

He said gyms and fitness studios have taken significant steps to improve ventilation and filtration, but haven’t seen the rebound that the restaurant and bar industry has seen in customers.

“We are industry that hasn’t really received the support that other industries have had,” according to Van Storch.

“And the thing that really is sort of frustrating for us is that we are, of all the industries, we are the industry that is most closely aligned with health and getting past the pandemic.”

He argues it’s in the District’s best interest — from a health and safety perspective — to work toward keeping “the gyms open, keep the studios open, and keep people energized and activated in those facilities to stay healthy.”

“This is not our opinion,” said Myers. “The city actually released data last fall based on their contact tracing efforts about where the spread was coming from, and you did not see gyms and fitness facilities anywhere close to the top of that list. … We are actually basing this conversation on the facts as we know it and as the data that the city provided has shown.”

WTOP reached out to D.C. health leaders for their response and was provided a July 27 statement by DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt touting the effectiveness of masks worn indoors.

While Von Storch acknowledged that D.C. wasn’t dismissive of the DCFA’s pleas, he said he came away from a meeting with health leaders with no real expectation that the situation would be changing anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Myers seemed a bit more optimistic.

“I think that they were receptive to our situation but also steadfast in their conservatism, at least at this stage to protect community spread … the only way they know for sure, which are masks.”

Myers said that while he agreed with Von Storch that a pilot program predicated on proof of vaccination didn’t seem to be on the horizon either: “It didn’t also sound like it was completely off the table for the future.”