The whiplash caused this week when an appeals judge restored the statewide mask mandate a day after it had been struck down by a lower court has some gyms in the region ditching mask requirements.
Larry Nelsen of Amsterdam was surprised this week when he went to work out at his local Planet Fitness and found the gym had adopted a new mask optional policy. All customers had previously been required to mask up under the state mandate.
“I’m not saying that people who didn’t want to wear them didn’t pull them down at times, but the majority wore masks,” Nelsen said. “The other day, probably better than 30% or maybe more people came in without masks.”
In Schenectady, both Vent Fitness and Crunch Fitness notified customers over social media this week that it would be up to individuals’ discretion whether to wear a mask. The businesses cited the uncertainty surrounding the statewide mandate in their decision.
“Due to the ongoing uncertainty of the state government’s policy regarding the current mask mandate, we have decided that mask-wearing will be left to our members’ individual discretion as they consider their own health and the health of others. We greatly appreciate your understanding and patience as we navigate these challenging times together,” stated the post from Vent Fitness.
“With the rate of change that continues with the state government’s policy regarding mask mandates, at this time we have decided to leave the decision to wear a mask with the individual. Please consider personal health and respect the health of others when making this decision. Thank you for your understanding. We are in this together,” said the post from Crunch Fitness.
Although some gyms are going mask optional this week, the state mandate remains in effect after Appellate Division Justice Robert Miller on Tuesday granted the state’s request to keep the rule in place while Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration appeals the decision overturning it issued a day earlier by a lower court.
State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker on Monday ruled the governor and state health commissioner didn’t have the authority to issue a mask mandate without legislative approval. The mandate was issued in mid-December to combat the coronavirus surge fueled by the spread of the omicron variant over the winter and holiday season.
The order requires masks in schools, healthcare facilities, homeless shelters, jails, public transportation and any indoor public area where proof of vaccination is not required for entry.
The rapid-fire reversals of the mask mandate created general confusion about the already controversial topic, especially for school districts. The state Education Department notified districts that mask requirements would remain in effect based on the state’s appeal even before the stay order had been granted.
While some gyms are throwing in the towel on mask requirements amidst the tumult, some fitness aficionados would like them to remain in place, like Nelsen.
Even while masks were required, the 80-year-old veteran with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD took the additional precaution of visiting his local gym during weekday hours to avoid crowds while getting in his workout.
“I tried to avoid people as it is even when the mask mandate was in place,” Nelsen said. “I just don’t like the risk.”
Nelsen is fully vaccinated but has tried to play it safe throughout the pandemic due to his vulnerability by mostly staying home.
His full-body exercise routine using equipment only available to him at Planet Fitness is the one regular outing that he hasn’t given up. The masking requirement made him feel safer before his gym lifted it to his dismay this week.
“It made me pretty upset. I could stop going, but it’s good for my mental and physical health,” Nelsen said. “Exercise is good for me at my age.”
While the huffing and puffing of a good workout make wearing a mask all the less desirable, Nelsen said that’s exactly why wearing face coverings at the gym is so important.
“It makes it a little more difficult, but it is what it is. I do it because it’s safer,” said Nelsen, who wears an N95 mask while getting his reps in.
Nelsen hopes other people who share his feelings will speak out and that his gym will reimpose the mask requirement for everybody’s health and safety.
“I’m sure they’re doing it from an economic basis, probably more customers come in if they don’t have to wear a mask,” Nelsen said.
Representatives of Planet Fitness could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.