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Carroll County gyms, fitness centers trying to avoid confusion about mask rules

Dani Knight has the verbiage of Gov. Larry Hogan’s July 29 update to Maryland’s coronavirus pandemic recovery plan only a few clicks and swipes away on her cellphone.

Knight, who owns and operates Dani K Gym and Wellness in Westminster, finds Paragraph VI, Section C under the item “Face Coverings,” and points to No. 6 on a list of seven exceptions to the rule: “... while swimming or engaging in other physical activities where the use of a Face Covering is likely to pose a bona fide safety risk,” according to the governor’s rule, people don’t have to wear them.

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So members wearing a mask upon entering Knight’s gym don’t have to keep them on while working out. The same goes for most of the gyms and fitness centers around Carroll County, but the state policy has left some room for different interpretations.

“When you’re trying to run a business, you’re trying to do the right things, go by all the right things of what you feel is right,” said Knight, who added she’s trying to keep in contact with April Rose, her District 5 state delegate, to make sure her gym is operating under the rules.

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The wording is vague at best, Knight said. And other facilities have raised questions to the Carroll County Health Department. Maggie Kunz, the department’s health planner, said the county is sought was waiting for additional clarification to Hogan’s policy, and the state replied that face coverings are generally required except for “people actively engaged in heavy aerobic exercise when using face coverings creates a bona fide safety risk.” However, according to the Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel, anyone exercising without a face covering should stay at least 6 feet away from others and should put the covering back on when they’re done exercising. 

Owner Dani Knight posts her gym's limited capacity at Dani K Gym and Wellness in Westminster on June 20.
Owner Dani Knight posts her gym's limited capacity at Dani K Gym and Wellness in Westminster on June 20. (Dylan Slagle)

“I try to go by what [Hogan] does say and what everybody feels comfortable [with],” Knight said. “Some people wear their mask walking into the building. I personally don’t require it in here, unless they feel safer doing it. That’s fine. However, I wonder ... am I liable then if they’re wearing it and they’re breathing in all the [carbon dioxide], and their lack of oxygen, and they pass out?

“Am I liable for the injuries that they sustain from wearing a mask? ... I don’t know.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that, although face coverings are useful for reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, “People who are engaged in high intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a mask if it causes difficulty breathing.” But it also points out that exercising in areas with good ventilation and where social distancing can be maintained is preferable.

Employees at Merritt Clubs Eldersburg and Coppermine 4 Seasons in Hampstead said their policies require masks to be worn when anyone enters and/or gathers inside their facility, but not when using any equipment during a workout.

Planet Fitness in Westminster, meanwhile, requires facial coverings to be worn “at all times while in the club,” and that includes while exercising. The company’s corporate policy, which can be found on the Planet Fitness website, states that members and guests aren’t required to wear them while working out, but “stricter local requirements will be enforced above and beyond our mask policy.”

A sign posted on the Westminster facility’s front door explains the rules, and also displays the usual safety guidelines to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Knight said the ruling seems to have gray area, but she’s doing her best to maintain a clean and safe place for her more than 200 members to utilize.

“I feel like even with me being a small business, a small gym, and people actually know me, see me, with respect and trust and all of that stuff,” she said, “they give me that as much as I give that to them.”

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