California fitness centers sue state over virus closures

California

A man cycles past a group participating in a Crossfit class outside of a gym in Los Angeles, California, on July 14, 2020. (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California fitness centers have filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus unfairly target the industry and are demanding they be allowed to reopen.

The California Fitness Alliance, which represents nearly 300 businesses, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Scott Street, a lawyer for the group, said Tuesday.

The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the alliance.

“We are not looking for a fight,” said Schuler, who is chief executive of In-Shape Health Clubs. “We are committed to being as safe as possible. We are in the health business. That’s what we care about more than anything.”

The suit is one of many filed by California sectors walloped by closures due to the pandemic. Newsom’s administration let many businesses reopen in spring but shut them again in July as virus cases surged, and is allowing reopenings to take place in phases as counties see virus cases diminish.

State and county officials declined to comment on the litigation. Los Angeles County said it has been “intensely committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented crisis using science and data.”

Under state rules, fitness centers can reopen indoors at 10% of capacity when a county’s infections drop from widespread to substantial. In counties with minimal infections, gyms can reopen indoors at 50% capacity.

The closures have devastated the fitness industry, which could see between 30% and 40% of businesses close for good, Schuler said. They have also worsened the mental and physical health of residents who rely on gyms for exercise at a time when they are being urged to stay healthy to protect themselves against COVID-19, she said.

The alliance also questioned why fitness centers are facing more restrictive measures than restaurants when gym equipment can be spaced out and patrons required to wear masks.

Statewide, California’s coronavirus infection rate has dropped steadily for weeks. As of last Tuesday, however, 33 of the state’s 58 counties still had widespread infection levels, which require schools to only offer distance learning and most businesses to limit indoor operations.

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