A local epidemiologist is questioning an exception to mandatory mask rules coming into effect in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert on Friday.
People who walk into or around fitness facilities will have to wear masks until they start exercising, according to the province.
Epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said masks should be mandatory in gyms at all times.
“That is a clearer message, not as confusing a message… and in fact, probably a more effective message,” said Muhajarine, a University of Saskatchewan community health professor.
“This is an unnecessary exemption to have been made.”
There have been numerous COVID-19 exposure alerts at Saskatchewan gyms.
People exhale heavily while exercising, and Muhajarine said that creates added risk.
“If you happen to be actually carrying the virus, you could be unloading the virus into the environment… quite a bit,” he said in an interview.
Saskatchewan’s health ministry said it may adjust the mask rule if additional measures are required to reduce transmission.
Local gym owners weigh in
Jocelyn Rylee, owner of CrossFit BRIO in northeast and southwest Saskatoon, emailed her clients Tuesday evening to alert them that they’ll have to wear masks before classes begin.
“A lot of our members were already doing that, so it’s not going to be too disruptive to our regular routine,” Rylee told Global News.
“Once we’re spaced out, I think it’s appropriate to take them off.”
Rylee said people who work out at her gyms get their own space and equipment.
“The masks are in addition to those good practices and as long as we keep them up, I feel pretty safe,” she said.
Staff at Fitness Focus in north Saskatoon spaced out exercise equipment and have encouraged distancing and sanitization.
Gym owner Garret Blackwell said many members already wear masks while moving around the gym.
Staff are encouraging people to stay in one area of the gym, but will ensure people follow the indoor masking rules when moving around come Friday.
“It’s a good compromise,” he said. “I think it would turn a lot of people off if it was mandatory masks all the time.”
Masks don’t affect exercise performance, study finds
Blackwell said some people aren’t comfortable wearing a mask while exercising, though he does not believe it reduces oxygen levels.
A new University of Saskatchewan study found that to be true, concluding that wearing a mask does not affect athletic performance in healthy people.
Muhajarine has worn a mask while exercising.
“The first couple of times that you have that mask on and are working out, it might be odd,” he said, “but you do get used to it… after a while.”