Inside City Fitness, the phones have been ringing off the hook.
Friday marked the first day in nearly 15 months that mask-wearing was no longer required indoors in most places in Philadelphia, and members of the Center City gym were eager to take advantage of the new rules, unfreeze their memberships, and return.
“We have about 1,200 members [whose accounts have been] on freeze, and they’ve been waiting for this moment,” said Rich Fetterolf, operations manager at City Fitness East Market, one of the franchise’s six locations in Philadelphia.
Although it lifted the requirement, the Health Department says that masks are “strongly recommended” indoors and outdoors for the unvaccinated.
And while mask-wearing was scarce inside the gym, in other Center City businesses, most faces were still covered. Many residents did not know that the mandate had been lifted and were happy to learn the news, while others remained cautious out of skepticism and/or respect for others. Some described excitement to see life in the city resume and to catch glimpses of neighbors’ smiles. Others questioned the Health Department’s decision to lift the order before more residents had been fully vaccinated.
Masks are still required on public transit; at health-care facilities; and in congregate settings such as prisons, homeless shelters, schools, camps, and day-care centers. About two-thirds of the city’s residents have received one vaccine dose, and 52% are fully vaccinated.
During a crowded lunch rush at Reading Terminal Market, most were still masked up.
“Why wouldn’t I [wear one]?” said Beatrice Brown, 73, who is vaccinated but wore two masks as she shopped at OK Produce. “I don’t know who had the shot and who didn’t.”
Brown, of North Philadelphia, said she felt like the city lifted the mandate too soon, and that the new freedom might motivate some to remain unvaccinated.
Dolores Lowry, 75, of East Oak Lane, said she’ll keep wearing a mask “just to be safe,” but will start easing out of it over time.
“Plus, I done bought so many of them!” she said.
Many unmasked market visitors said they were visiting from other parts of the state or country where masks have not been required for some time. Pennsylvania lifted its indoor and outdoor mask mandate for vaccinated people on May 13, when the CDC deemed it safe to do so. The city maintained its outdoor mask requirement for the vaccinated until May 21. The statewide mask mandate, which still applies to unvaccinated Pennsylvanians, will be lifted by June 28, state health officials have said.
“I got fully vaccinated for a reason,” said Chris Morrow, 47, of Missouri, who was visiting with his daughter, Jazminé, and opted not to wear a mask.
Terri Cook, of Exton, Chester County, was excited to walk the market unmasked, but was still adjusting to the newfound freedom.
“I feel like I’m doing something wrong,” said Cook, 45.
At MOM’s Organic Market on South 11th Street, almost all customers wore masks.
Celine Boyer, 61, said her husband, Stephen, is a kidney transplant recipient, and though both of them are vaccinated, they are unsure how his medication could impact his immune system’s ability to develop antibodies. She said they will continue to wear masks and take precautions.
Mary Ellen Didier, a retired anthropologist, said she is feeling conflicted about wearing one. She believes that the vaccine works, but wants to be respectful of other people. She also likes that it protects against exposure to viruses beyond COVID-19.
Not all businesses will follow the city’s guidance immediately. Tufa’s Boulder Lounge, a rock climbing gym in North Philadelphia, said on Instagram that “for the time being” members will still be required to wear masks indoors.
City Fitness will not require members to show proof of vaccination, and will keep the sanitation and cleaning practices developed during the pandemic, said Fetterolf. The gym is preparing for a January-level rush of new members, as many people had found it difficult to work out while wearing a mask.
“I can breathe better, I can lift better, I just all around feel great,” said Jesse Moyer, 24, who had been working out with a mask nearly every day since the facility reopened earlier this year.
Janelle Whiting, 42, was one of just a few working out while masked Friday, mostly because she was unaware of the change.
“This is a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively,” said Whiting, a nurse who is vaccinated.
She won’t ditch the mask right away, though: “I’ll ease into it. It was the new norm, so now we have to go back to the old norm.”