Some outfit choices are forcing students to swap shirts or leave the Campus Recreation Center (CRC) to prevent skin infections from transferring to the equipment.
No infections have been reported, said CRC Director Eric Hunter, but methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – a potentially fatal bacterium more commonly known as MRSA – and ringworm are among the bacteria and fungi they aim to prevent through stricter enforcement of the Center’s Conduct Standards and Policies code, which states “In all areas of the facility, shirts and tank tops must be worn (and) cover (the) entire torso (e.g., back, chest, midriff).”
While no gym members have ever gotten skin infections from their equipment, Hunter said national stories of MRSA outbreaks have prompted stricter enforcement of the CRC dress code than previous semesters.
On Wednesday, a new MRSA outbreak was reported in Indianapolis among six players of Rushville High School’s football team according to wthr.com, while on the same day, a separate case in Pennsylvania was reported where two student athletes from Charleroi School District contracted the bacterium.
“It’s not like we’re the clothes police and we’re after one particular style,” he said. “What we’re really after is health and safety.”
Some gym clothing leaves more skin exposed than others, and Hunter said women’s tank tops are of chief concern because the upper torso is the part of the body that contacts the fitness equipment most often.
“Tank tops come in all shapes and sizes. It’s sort of a difficult thing to define sometimes, but what we’re looking for is the least exposure in terms of skin contact to the upholstery,” he said. “There are some tank tops where the (back) strap goes down the middle, so both shoulder blades are exposed.”
He said women’s clothing has more variations than men’s clothing, including racerback tops and female tops that expose the midriff. He said standard tank tops, which expose portions of the shoulders, chest and back, are allowed.
“A lot of it is judgment, I have to be honest with you,” he said. “For some racerbacks, some can be wide in the back, and that’s OK, but when a lot of skin is exposed that is coming in contact with the (fitness equipment’s) upholstery, that’s not a good thing.”
Though women could have more trouble conforming with the stricter enforcement, some men have been affected too, he said.
“We’ve had some men who we’ve had to ask to leave or go back to the car and get a different shirt on,” he said. “I can think of one in particular, and he had the long tank top where, basically, the sleeve opening (extended) to his waist. So, when they’re making contact with the benches, this whole (side torso) area is open and able to touch the upholstery.”
Hunter said the Center’s general policies and procedures are posted at the building’s entrance and in several places on the fitness floor.
“MRSA can be deadly if left unattended and it will keep getting worse and worse,” he said. “We’re all a lot more aware of it than we used to be.”
Most MRSA infections are skin infections that may appear as pustules or boils which often are red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage, according to the Center for Disease Control. MRSA within fitness canters can generally be prevented through good personal hygiene combined with cleaning and disinfecting fitness equipment and facilities.
Fitness Coordinator Jay Downing said he wasn’t employed at the CRC last year, but past experiences working in other fitness centers where infections have been a problem prompted him to implement stricter enforcement when he arrived at the CRC.
“There is an inherent risk in exercise, so just like we take steps to prevent those risks to keep everybody safe, there’s always the risk (for a bacteria like MRSA because) we have hundreds of people who come in every day,” he said.
Courtney St. Louis, a junior majoring in physical education, said she was wearing a racerback tank top Wednesday while using a second floor elliptical when a CRC employee told her she could finish her workout, but should not wear the “revealing” top to the CRC again.
“One of the workers came up to me and asked me if I had another shirt or anything to wear because they are not allowing tank tops or racerback shirts anymore at the gym,” she said. “When you go to workout, you go there to sort of relieve stress … I don’t want to be watched like a hawk when I’m in the gym.”
St. Louis said she doesn’t think elliptical or other cardio machine users should fall under the stricter enforcement because those machines generally do not require direct skin contact. She said she uses the CRC every day, but may not return.
“I had a membership at LifeStyle (Fitness) before, so I might go back,” she said. “I’m still deciding.”
Though the new Recreation Center has been in operation since Aug. 22, the clothing policy is being enforced more recently due to the priority being placed on acclimating visitors to the new facilities, Hunter said.
“We’ve always had a dress code,” he said. “We’re probably enforcing it better than we used to in the old building. We’re having a lot more usage than we used to have. We’ve probably (tripled) our usage in the new building due to the new space.”
– Additional reporting by Krystal Modigell