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It's finally mask optional workouts at Mayo Clinic's gym

Following an internal change at the clinic allowing vaccinated employees to work without masks in areas of no patient contact, the clinic's expansive Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center now allows members to work out without face coverings for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center Mask Policy
Dylan Kalscheur runs on a treadmill at Mayo Clinic's Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Rochester. As of Monday, Sept. 12, mask-wearing for members at the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center is optional.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — The need for masking is highest within health care, but masking hits some activities harder than others. Like working out at the company fitness center.

So for users of Mayo Clinic's Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, the lifting two weeks ago of a mask requirement within nonpatient areas on the Rochester campus has been a long time coming.

"A few members have reached out to me to say that they have been waiting for this and are excited to return," said Heather Smith, manager at the center. "I've had members come to my classes specifically, like a cycle class, and say this feels so amazing ... Just to take off a mask when they come up stairs, workout hard and feel like they can give their best effort. It's been a joy to see their smiles."

"This concept of joy is important for our organization," said Beth Riley, director of Human Resources at the center. "And (the policy change) is something that has created joy for our membership here."

The clinic in Rochester, Arizona and southwest Wisconsin announced the new policy on Sept. 9, one making masking optional for vaccinated staff in nonpatient-care areas of patient-care buildings, according to Mayo spokesperson Ginger Plumbo. A mask mandate has been in effect for the last couple of years.

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"To protect our patients, visitors and staff, masking continues to be required in any physical location where patients or visitors may be present, including common spaces like hallways, waiting areas and patient cafeterias," she said in an email.

As a result, those who enter the Dan Abraham center still must wear masks in the elevator lobby servicing its upper floors, but can work out in the upstairs fitness area mask-free. That said, the center still hosts a sizable percentage of users who prefer to exercise with masks.

"I would say right now it's about 25%," Riley said, "just depending on where they are at. You've got some of the active older adults who still prefer to mask ... as well as those folks who work in direct patient care who still prefer to mask. But it's so nice to provide the option."

With the exception that users must show proof of vaccination for membership, it's the last concession to COVID-19 mitigation to fall on the center fitness floor.

Tape lines that once kept participants distanced have been lifted since the start of this year, Smith said, and exercise classes have long since returned to pre-COVID capacity. Contacted outside the facility, several users said they liked the new policy but had become used to masking while sweating.

"I like it," said Emily Stuart, a student in the clinic's medical lab science program. "It's much easier to work out without the mask on ... But I'm definitely aware of other people around me and try to go during times where there's not a lot of people."

"It's nice to be a part of Mayo community but not having to wear masks," said Tony Watts, an RN. "That definitely wasn't ideal when you got your heart rate up you started sucking in the mask and sweating all over it."

"But I'm just following their guidelines and whatever they decide I understand and respect."

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"I'm used to it man," said Graham Jaensch-Frie, a researcher who plans to remain masked while at the center.

"Obviously the cardio was the hardest. I think a lot of people have been waiting for this because the second that mandate came out, I went in there and nobody had a mask on after that."

"I'm OK with it," he said. "I know people are going to do what they want to do. All you can really do is protect yourself and that's what it boils down to. I'm going to keep rocking the mask."

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Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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