Westport first selectman relaxes mask mandates for gyms, fitness centers

WESTPORT — First Selectman Jim Marpe has quietly amended the town’s mask mandate, allowing those participating in some athletic activities to go unmasked.

Per an executive order issued Sept. 1, Marpe declared that masks “are not required for no-contact sports where distance can be maintained (i.e., tennis, running on a track, weightlifting).” However, the order stated, trainers are required to be masked.

The order also stated that “masks are not required for activities where individuals can keep a safe social distance (6 feet)” and that “masks should be removed where there is a possibility of getting wet during swimming.”

The exceptions don’t apply to school-based sporting activities, the order states.

The revision has garnered criticism from some, including Democratic candidate for first selectman Jonathan Steinberg and his running mate, Candice Savin, who is also chair of the Board of Education. On Friday, Steinberg, Savin and Board of Education candidates Christina Torres and Kevin B. Christie Jr. called out the changes.

“We question the current administration’s decision to ignore (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance by making masks in gyms and fitness settings optional,” the statement read. “We imagined a different fall, one with fewer if any restrictions. But right now, CDC guidance is for everyone in areas experiencing high transmission to wear masks indoors.”

The other first selectman candidate, TJ Elgin, also criticized the policy, and called out inconsistencies in the town’s COVID protocols.

“The town made recent changes to mask mandates, allowing people to exercise within fitness businesses without masks, yet restricting parents that do not show proof of vaccination into the schools,” the statement read.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice recently stated that all visitors to Westport schools need to show proof of vaccination.

“We are always hearing people tell us to follow the science, but it is frustrating when those same people blatantly ignore it,” Elgin said in his statement.

But Marpe said, given the information he had, loosening some of the mask restrictions seemed reasonable.

“Many of the communities around us have been allowing gyms, indoor tennis centers, workout studios and training centers to allow indoor workouts, training, and non-contact sports to proceed without masks,” Marpe said in a statement. “As a result, based on consultation with Mark Cooper, director of the Westport Weston Health District, and other members of our emergency management team, we elected last week to modify our indoor masking requirements in gyms, indoor training, and fitness centers to align with our neighboring communities.”

He added that the Westport COVID emergency response team “continues to meet weekly to review the status of the pandemic in our community and will adjust masking and other restrictions as conditions and the data indicate that changes are appropriate.”

As of Thursday, the state reported that Westport’s COVID-19 case rate was 8 per 100,000, putting its risk in the “yellow” zone, meaning that its numbers are trending better than some neighboring communities, including Fairfield, which was still in the “orange” zone.