DC health director rejects gym owners’ calls to loosen mask mandate

Gym owners called on the Metropolitan Council on Thursday to “work alongside us to save the capital’s fitness business” and criticized the “unfair and excessively restrictive policies” put in place by district leaders in response to the pandemic.

Gym owners called on the Metropolitan Council on Thursday to “work alongside us to save the capital’s fitness business” and criticized the “unfair and excessively restrictive policies” put in place by district leaders in response to the pandemic.

But their demand for the city to grant gyms and fitness studios a reprieve from the indoor mask mandate was met with a stark denial from the DC Health director.

In a webinar with Ward 7 board member Vincent Gray, Brian Myers, CEO and President of SolidCore, said the DC fitness industry has been “totally decimated by the COVID-19 crisis” and that the mask mandate is still causing damage to their business.

“Did you know that the fitness industry has lost nearly 25% of all business permanently since the start of the pandemic?” asked Myers. “Did you know that the fitness industry is the only hard-hit industry that hasn’t received targeted relief from our government, unlike restaurants, performance venues and many more. Our industry is really hit and we need your support.”

Myers said he tried to contact Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office as well as DC Health, but received no response.

He and other gyms in the area drafted a letter in early October asking officials to examine the available data and reconsider the mask mandate as it applies to gyms. They urged city leaders to drop the mask mandate for gyms if the facilities require a COVID-19 vaccination for all guests.

Myers said on Thursday’s call that the letter “was not respected even by acknowledgment of receipt.”

“Across the ten organizations represented in this discourse, we are collectively pumping millions, if not tens of millions of dollars into the region’s economy in the form of hundreds of team members we employ, many of whom are women, people of color and/or LGBTQ; millions of dollars in rent Collectively we pay property owners in Washington, D.C., and of course the taxes we contribute to the area,” Myers said.

He described it as “sad that the mayor’s office and the Ministry of Health did not bother to respond directly to a letter we sent four weeks ago.”

Holding a photo purportedly of a prom without masks, Myers said, “And it doesn’t make sense that you can be at maximum viewing capacity at The Anthem, which DC Health allows, however, there is a 15-person fitness class where everyone has been vaccinated, And people aren’t allowed to be there without a mask on. It just doesn’t make sense.”

When asked Gray Director of Health Dr.

“I find it hard to make them comfortable because I think, as an industry, I get the most messages from them. They are often accusatory, factually inaccurate, and somewhat bullying,” Nesbitt told Gray.

Despite testimony from several owners of gyms and studios that echo Myers’ concerns about the industry, Nesbitt said it does not plan to make any exceptions for masks for gyms.

“How can I say to a gym, ‘Yeah, while you’re at the gym blowing on each other, and you’re sweating and breathing hard, you can take off your mask because you don’t like it,’ but ‘Am I going to keep asking for it in schools?'” I still order it in restaurants, etc.

When I feel the area is in a good enough place and we have enough vulnerable residents, including our children, 5 to 11 years old who have a degree of personal protection, I will make a recommendation to the mayor to remove the interior space’s mandate. Well, is that clear? ‘ Nesbitt said eloquently.

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She did not respond at the hearing to the gym owners’ assurances that masks were not necessary in the vaccinated population.

David von Storch, founder of VIDA Fitness, has testified that vaccinations, not hidden mandates, are the answer.

VIDA implemented the “proof of vaccination” requirement back in August.

“Jurisdictions that have vaccination requirements and no mandates for masks are seeing a steady decline in infection rates,” von Storch said, citing New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco as cities where infection rates have fallen to the equivalent of the capital or less.

He said the data shows gyms are not a source of community spread.

“Why? Simply put, fitness centers are open, airy spaces. People do not congregate in fitness centers as they do in restaurants and bars, but rather spread out naturally to give themselves room for fitness and strength routines,” said von Storch.

He said he’s asked DC Health for the metrics that will push the internal mask mandate to drop it.

We don’t get any of these answers. Montgomery County, the metrics for mask removal were very transparent. We don’t even understand that,” said von Storch.

Aris Siddiqui, a representative for Orangetheuri, also said he was not getting data from health officials in the capital. He said the health representative “has no scientific evidence, and doesn’t have any data.”

“All we ask is, just use the scientific evidence in whatever kind of requirements they impose on us,” my friend said. “Share the metrics. Ministry of Health, please let us know. Where do we have to go before we can take these masks off?”

My friend said that they, like other gyms, “received no response.”

We have tried to contact management and have not received any response.

Nesbit said her days of writing detailed responses and spending hours responding to businesses are behind her, and that she is “out of my bandwidth now.” Nesbitt said she’s responded to gym owners before.

“I responded, and made very clear statements, which only led to a flurry of messages from them…not using factual information, offensive points and being more powerful. And that kind of engagement will go on constantly. So I pulled out, which drives them,” Nisbet told Gray. To you again to force me to engage.”

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

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