Gyms have reopened in Arizona while California gyms are suing to do the same

(Video by Kelsey Collesi/Cronkite News)

LOS ANGELES – Arizonans got the green light to return to public gyms on Aug. 27, but Californians in Los Angeles County and 17 other counties are awaiting a decision in the California Fitness Alliance’s lawsuit to resume indoor workouts.

The coalition formed in March in response to closures ordered to slow the spread of COVID-19, with the aim of reopening California gyms safely. Although gyms opened in certain areas, including Orange County in early September, many in shutdown counties are relying on the lawsuit to open, association attorney Scott Street said.

“We filed a lawsuit against the governor and state health officials arguing that they have exceeded their powers under state law by indefinitely continuing the stay at home order,” Street said of the Sept. 15 filing.

The alliance consists of more than 200 gyms and studios across the state. Thousands of eager gym-goers signed a petition in September imploring Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow them to reopen after two months of waiting.

“As a state, we have a long road to recovery in front of us,” the petition reads. “Reopening fitness facilities will be key to getting many people back to work and will play a significant role in helping California recover physically, mentally, and economically.”

Gym-goers voiced support for California Fitness Alliance on Twitter, complaining their physical fitness needs are not being satisfied under state law.

The association also has pointed to mental health concerns as a reason for the lawsuit. Gym owners argue their businesses are essential to the well-being of individuals.

Although nail salons and other indoor businesses have reopened in certain counties, gyms in Los Angeles County and other tier 1 counties are restricted to outdoor facilities only.

The Los Angeles School of Gymnastics reopened in its outdoor lot in July, but vice president Tanya Berenson said it has encountered many issues in the process. Access to restrooms was limited, she said, and a snake made an appearance at one point.

In addition, gymnastics equipment is necessary for safety and appropriate workouts and can be difficult to move. Exercising outside means gym-goers are forced to compromise their intensity and routines.

“The premise is to utilize specific equipment for specific areas of the body,” Berenson said. “Not everything can be transported daily and set up daily.”

Street said it’s unreasonable to expect most gyms to effectively transition outdoors, especially when the summer was so hot. The California fires also have rendered the air quality too poor for healthy outdoor workouts, he said.

“Whether it’s in neighborhoods that aren’t the safest places in the world, places with extreme weather or extreme heat,” Street said, “that’s not sustainable, you can’t work out outside in the rain and in the cold and in the dark.”

Equinox was able to open its first outdoor gym during the shutdown. Equinox is not party to the lawsuit and did not respond to a request for comment. According to its website, however, the outdoor gym is open to members, who typically pay about $2,200 a year with a $300 initiation fee.

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However, some of the most popular gyms, such as LA Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness, could not open outdoor facilities. 24 Hour Fitness shut down 100 of its gyms when the national chain declared bankruptcy in June, citing the pandemic.

However, 24 Hour Fitness now is reopening its remaining gyms in states and counties where appropriate.

Every LA Fitness location in Phoenix has reopened to the public, and even gyms in Orange County opened Sep. 8 at reduced hours. Street noted these successful reopenings and said his association questioned why certain businesses with the same health protocols would not be allowed to do the same.

“A CFA study revealed that of the more than 5.5 million members who checked into 285 fitness centers between June 12 and July 13, only 0.002 percent of those members tested positive for COVID-19,” association founding partner Francesca Schuler said in a news release. “Not a single outbreak from within those centers was reported as a result from those visits.”

The California Department of Public Health released guidelines for the reopening of fitness facilities on July 19, including sanitation and disinfection plans, social distancing and the use of face masks while in the facility. Despite every precaution set, these gyms still can’t open, based solely on their location.

XPonential Fitness owns 50 gyms in Arizona, including Phoenix, and filed a similar lawsuit in August but was unsuccessful in persuading a judge to overrule Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s stance that gyms are COVID-19 hotspots.

LA residents will hope for a different outcome in California as they await a response from the state. This also goes for gym employees who are without work. The health club industry supports 177,366 jobs across the state, according to the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

The group also estimates that 20% of clubs will be completely closed by the end of 2020, according to Meredith Poppler, vice president of communications and leadership engagement.

Sports Reporter, Los Angeles

Johnny Messiha is a Southern California native who expects to graduate in spring 2021 with his master’s degree in sports journalism. He has served as a commentator at the University of San Diego, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in communication studies.

Sports Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Kelsey Collesi is a former educator who expects to graduate in May 2021 with a master’s degree in sports journalism.