Life

I Work Out at an Illegal Gym in Michigan. No One Wears Masks.

A man pumps iron in the gym.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Dollar Gill/Unsplash.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This diary from a 28-year-old gymgoer in Michigan has been condensed and edited from a conversation with Jeffrey Bloomer.

I heard about this gym on Facebook through a friend. There was a lawsuit against [Michigan Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer to reopen the gyms at the time. The gyms were set to reopen on a Friday in mid-June. But then she filed a motion in the courts so they couldn’t open after all. This gym just opened anyway.

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Even with the governor’s order, when I asked, they were like: “Hey, nothing’s changing. You can still come in.” The only difference is that we don’t park in the parking lot now. They have you park across the street so they don’t get complaints. In the first few weeks, we parked there, but people started calling to say that the parking lot was full, and the owner got warned by the police that if they get calls, they’re going to come in and shut them down. So they got rid of the complaints by sending us across the street.

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I feel for the owner. It’s a small gym. It’s been open less than a year, so he financially is going through a really hard time still. For me, I hadn’t been to the gym since March. The gym’s kind of the place I go to deal with stress and anxiety, and to keep focus. That is my release, and my health and fitness are important to me. It’s a place I can go to stay motivated, stay on track, keep everything fettered and balanced in my life. It gives me something outside of working, almost a coping mechanism, honestly. And when I saw bars and restaurants opening at that time, I thought, I can have this too.

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So, since June, I’ve gone and done my thing. The gym environment itself, it’s no masks. There’s definitely sanitizer, but I’d say no crazy steps, like temperature checks. There’s hand sanitizer, but that’s self-administered. There’s not a ton of oversight.

A few people try to be respectful of other people social distancing. It’s a small gym, though, so people get stacked on top of one another. It’s really bizarre, honestly. Obviously, a lot of high contact with dumbbells not really necessarily being wiped down. And like I said, of all the people, two of them might be wearing masks, but in general, it’s no masks.

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I don’t wear a mask either. Honestly, if it were enforced, I would. It’s just something I never put much thought into. It’s not something I’m unwilling to do—it’s just a matter of going with kind of the norm of what’s happening more than anything else, I would say.

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It’s felt increasingly less safe as time’s going on, as the gym has had more and more people in there. I feel like it’s really dropped off the focus on safety that was there at the beginning, where I felt super comfortable. I still go, just not as frequently. Instead of going seven times a week, I’m maybe going four times a week, at times I know that are low-traffic.

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The vibe is different now too. It’s less a community than the gym normally is. Usually if you’re in a gym, you’ll see circles of five or six people standing around. It’s not so much like that. Occasionally you’ll see people training in partners, but you don’t see large groups of people training together. Still, anybody who’s going to that gym right now is not too worried. I definitely think I’m probably in the minority of people in the gym who are a little bit more freaked out. I think most of those people just are—it doesn’t seem like they’re really worried about it.

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I think the most alarming thing that I’ve seen was a probably 80-year-old guy in there. No mask, just lifting without much concern. That was the most uncomfortable I felt at any time. It was seeing somebody in an at-risk population demographic within the gym. That was kind of startling to me and really made me make sure I was staying away from him and his area as much as possible.

So that’s the hardest part about me going back to the gym: knowing that, since I do work with the public, that’s another potential risk to my customers. I’m highly cognizant of the fact that it’s not the smartest decision to make. It’s something to me that is important enough, where I feel like there’s a low probability of contraction just through that one activity. But I know anywhere else I go I’m wearing a mask. I’m definitely using hand sanitizer before I go there, after I go there. Definitely wash my hands more at work. Make all of those adjustments I possibly can. Other than that too, it’s not like I’m going out to eat. I’m not going to any other places except for the gym.

Would I go back to my usual gym if it reopened with masks required? Yes. A hundred percent. Honestly, I would prefer to go to a gym where I felt more comfortable, like to my usual gym that’s larger and has more space to take precautions. But that’s not an option that’s available. So you kind of got to find the next best thing.

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