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NC mask mandate for gyms appears to contradict recommendations from World Health Organization

“I think it’s confusing as heck to most people,” Rob Jenkins, the co-founder of Hive Fitness, said.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s expanded mask mandate seems to contradict one of the leading health agencies in the world. Specifically, Governor Roy Cooper’s new requirement for people to wear a mask while exercising; The World Health Organization recommends the opposite.  

On its website, the WHO clearly states people should not wear masks while exercising because of various health reasons.

To be clear, science has shown wearing a mask helps prevent COVID-19, and there’s no legitimate debate about that. However, there is a debate about wearing a mask while exercising.

Rob Jenkins, the co-founder of Hive Fitness, said forcing people to wear a mask could hurt their health instead of helping it.

“There are people for whom wearing a mask and attempting even moderate level intensity exercise would be prohibitively dangerous,” Jenkins said.

The mask mandate while exercising is now part of Governor Cooper’s executive order meant to get the skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 under control.

“We are in danger," Gov. Cooper said Monday while announcing the expanded mandate. "This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus."

However, the mandate appears to be at odds with recommendations from the World Health Organization.

“I think it’s confusing as heck to most people,” said Jenkins.

On its website, the WHO clearly states people should not wear masks while exercising. The health agency said, “Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms."

“It’s counterproductive, it’s counterintuitive,” Jenkins said.

Dr. Katie Passaretti, an infectious disease specialist for Atrium Health, recommends people exercise outside and six feet apart, rather than at a gym.

“I’m recommending not going to the gym,” Dr. Passaretti said. “If you choose to exercise in a gym, then modifying the type of exercise you’re doing may be necessary so you can wear that mask and protect others.”

Some gyms, such as Planet Fitness, have been requiring masks for months. WCNC Charlotte asked Jenkins if they will require masks at Hive Fitness.

“We feel it’s a highly individualized decision," Jenkins responded. "People are more than welcome to wear a mask."

WCNC Charlotte reached out to the Mecklenburg County Department of Public Health to see how much spread, if any, has happened at gyms.  

Public Health said they are not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks at gyms, since they reopened at the beginning of October.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said they have not identified any COVID-19 clusters connected to fitness centers. A cluster is defined as at least five positive cases scientifically linked to each other within 14 days.

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