RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam’s new Executive Order 79 goes into effect Friday, May 28 at midnight, lifting capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements in Virginia. But gym-goers may notice varying degrees of changes at the end of this week, with local businesses having the ultimate say on which eased mitigation efforts they want to continue to enforce.

On May 15, Northam updated Virginia’s mask mandate to align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear a mask. But patrons of gyms in the greater Richmond area might notice that gym employees are still wearing a mask.

“Employers can require their employees to wear a mask,” Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Environmental Health Services Director Julie Henderson said. “It’s just this executive order doesn’t specify that employees have to wear a mask.”

In fact, Henderson said that VDH is encouraging it.

Crunch Fitness in Scott’s Addition will remove the tape from most of its machines once Executive Order 79 goes into effect. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

“We have a law that’s in place that says people can’t wear a mask in public to conceal their identity,” she said. “That’s still waived, and so the governor and VDH still are very much encouraging people in what includes fitness centers and gyms to wear a mask.”

Similarly, although gyms will no longer be required to allow for 10 feet of social distancing among patrons, Henderson said that they can make the choice to continue to do so.

“VDH will still make recommendations, and we’re kind of transitioning over to — because it’s the executive order expiring — transitioning over to providing recommendations, so best practices for businesses to follow,” Henderson said. “If gyms and patrons want to continue to have a distance apart and that includes increased ventilation, things like that, they can certainly do that. It’s just not the law.”

Crunch Fitness in Scott’s Addition, for example, will continue to have some machines taped off for the time being, according to General Manager Matthew Evans.

“Everyone’s pretty much excited about getting these [restrictions] lifted. We still want everyone to act smart,” he said. “We could have every single treadmill open, but they’re right next to each other. Right now, we have two treadmills taken off to add 10 feet. Maybe we’ll do only one treadmill, opening up that many more treadmills. So it’s still plenty more treadmills and still distanced.”

In compliance with state restrictions, Crunch Fitness in Scott’s Addition has limited its class sizes over the course of the past several months. While Evans said that the gym might start to welcome more people back, he does not anticipate allowing maximum capacity in the fitness studios right away.

“We want to try our best to make as many people satisfied as possible,” Evans said. “When you’re not talking about executive orders and restrictions, kind of want to meet halfway, and I think a lot of people will still be happy with that answer.”

As for masks, Evans said that Crunch Fitness in Scott’s Addition is no longer requiring them for fully vaccinated individuals, in line with CDC guidance and statewide mask mandates. When 8News visited the gym to speak with Evans, a few gym-goers were wearing masks, but most were not.

“It’s basically up to your discretion. We’re not allowed to ask if you’ve been vaccinated,” Evans said. “If you want to wear a mask, that’s great. You’re not required to wear one anymore.”

However, earlier in May, Alena Yarmosky, the spokesperson for the governor, told 8News that the administration had ruled out statewide vaccination passports officially. Yarmosky also said that businesses have the authority to require their employees and customers to wear masks, and can ask for proof of individuals’ vaccination status before entry.

Henderson said that without proof of vaccination status, it’s up to Virginians to maintain a sense of community and trust in one another.

“There’s a sense of community I think we have to embrace and really shift over to things that — it’s not law, but it’s something that we’re doing because we care and we’re interested about our community members and our family,” she said. “Just because you’re not wearing one [a mask] does not mean you’re not following the requirements.”

With the authority to enforce community mitigation efforts in line with previous executive orders at their discretion, gyms throughout Virginia may choose to handle the lifting of restrictions on Friday in different ways. Evans said that Crunch Fitness in Scott’s Addition is looking forward to being able to accommodate more patrons and return to some sense of normalcy.

“This April and May has been the busiest April and May we’ve had in years. People are extremely excited to get back to the gym,” Evans said. “You can feel it in here. People are ready to come back, and we’re ready to give them whatever they need.”