EUGENE-SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Local fitness facilities and residents reacted Thursday to the news that the Oregon Health Authority will be lifting the state mask mandate on March 19.
This comes as hospitalizations are projected to reach levels below the start of the omicron surge, according to the OHA.
Pursue Fitness in Springfield is no stranger to pivoting due to COVID-19. The facility closed for two months in the beginning of the pandemic. They also moved fitness equipment outdoors at one point.
General Manager Matt Turnquist said there is a sense of relief with this news.
“I think when these announcements were first made, I believe it was about a month ago, we had the target date of March 31,” said Turnquist. “Even that created a lot of relief here. I think people are always looking for some sort of end, and I don’t know if we’re ever going to get that, but if we get sort of break, people will find relief in that.”
Turnquist said the fitness industry has forever changed because of the pandemic, but it has highlighted the importance of clean shared places.
“One thing the pandemic has shown us is how important access is to affordable, safe and clean fitness spaces,” said Turnquist. “I don’t think we’ll see the end of public fitness spaces. It’s just a matter of how they look and how they adapt to all the changes.”
The Eugene Family YMCA’s CEO, Brian Steffen, said the last two years have brought on challenges but has created opportunities for their leadership to think more strategically.
“There are things we are doing now that we were not doing before, not just because of COVID,” said Steffen. “During the past two years, we launched virtual fitness options for our members. We were the first Y to do that, in partnership of the YMCA of the USA. We launched a blood self-monitoring program. We also expanded or refugee and asylum program.”
Steffen also said their vision for the new Y opening up in 2023 was inspired by changes made in the pandemic.
“For example, during COVID we learned the importance of having an outdoor exercise space so we built an outdoor exercise space,” said Steffen. “We also have layered in extra handwashing stations.”
Masks will remain optional at both Pursue Fitness and The YMCA for those who want to continue wearing them for safety. Steffen said they are still waiting on public health guidance for their child care centers.
Some locals said it’s about time the mask mandate comes to an end.
“I’m glad to see it finally come around,” said Eugene resident Don Landauer. “Personally, I have been vaccinated and had my booster. I liked the mask mandate to protect others in case I was carrying something. So there is a little bit of trepidation, but I think at this point we need to lift it and get on with life.”
However, some are still approaching this new guidance with a “wait-and-see” attitude.
“I just turned 68 years old, so I’m in a category where I’m exercising an abundance of caution,” said Eugene resident Mike Grudzien.
Springfield Public Schools has announced beginning March 19, the indoor mask mandate will be lifted in their schools. Oregon State University has also announced its intention to lift the mask mandate on campus the same day.