Texas gym splits club, offering zone with masks, another without

National News

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wearing a mask in Texas gyms is now optional. However, in some, even with masks optional, you almost can’t tell the statewide mask mandate was lifted.

The majority of gymgoers wore their masks this week at a 24 Hour Fitness gym in Austin even though it wasn’t required.

General Manager OJ Stevenson wasn’t surprised.

“Everybody here, even before today, was pretty cooperative when it comes to masks,” he said.

Meinholz gets a run in along a mirror inside the gym (KXAN Photo/Tom Miller)

Club member Carson Meinholz, who chose not to wear a mask, wasn’t shocked either.

“This is Austin, Texas. I’m not surprised whatsoever. I’m just very happy that they’re giving it up to the individual a little bit more now because, again, that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “I believe in the good of the people, people can do what’s right. They can take care of themselves without the government forcing us to cover up our face.”

Many gyms around the area are offering different mask requirements and safety precautions.

“We decided to develop what we call a ‘club [within] club’ experience, so one part of the club is where masks are not required, but encouraged, and then we have another part of the club where masks are required,” Stevenson said of this 24 Hour Fitness gym. “The idea is just to make sure that we accommodate as many people as possible no matter their comfort level.”

Reactions to the ‘club within club’ zone option

The “club within club” zone, located in what used to be the gym’s basketball court, is equipped with cardio and strength equipment but has restrictions along with mask requirements. The area is maintained at 10% capacity with limited equipment, Stevenson said. However, it offers gymgoers who want to wear a mask some peace of mind while working out.

Gymgoer Terri Lee, who wore a mask in the “club within club” zone, applauds the gym’s decision.

Lee lifts weight inside “club in club” (KXAN Photo/Tom Miller)

“Not everyone will feel comfortable working out in an indoor, enclosed space with other people that aren’t wearing masks,” she said.

Regarding the practice of not wearing a mask, Lee said it’s “not great.”

“I don’t really think it’s very responsible. It’s a little bit disappointing to have the governor make that announcement, and also for 24 to change the rules, but I guess we’re already making calculated risks, so we’re just doing what we can to keep ourselves safe,” she said.

Meinholz said he had been frustrated over the state’s mask mandate.

“This is the land of the free, right?” he said. “So how can they force some people to mandatorily wear stuff on their bodies, over their face. That was always a little bit frustrating for me and for a lot of people, too.”

Meinholz says he’s “very happy” that the gym is allowing individuals to decide whether to wear a mask or not, adding, “It’s nice to not have the judgmental eyes when my mask slips down. Honestly, that was a little bit more bothersome than breathing and whatnot.”

He added, “You’ll see a few people poking around here without masks on, but I think give it more time as it becomes more normal, it’ll be all okay. I mean, everyone cuts corners. Not everyone in here follows every rule of every guideline every second of the day, so who are we to judge?”

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Meinholz isn’t opposed to the “club within club” zone, though. He thinks it’s a “great” option for those who want to wear a mask.

“If you need an extra accommodation, it’s gonna be there for you, but leaving it up to the people I think is the biggest thing, my biggest takeaway here,” he said.

Meinholz isn’t worried about safety at the gym.

“If you have risks in which you need to be concerned, go ahead and stay home, but otherwise, we all gotta keep moving,” he said. “We can’t be stagnant for too long.”

24 Hour Fitness is still promoting social distancing throughout its clubs along with safety protocol signage. The staff has cleaning procedures, along with cleaning supplies for its club members.

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