News and Commentary

San Francisco Closes Gyms In Government Buildings After Private Gym Owners Voice Outrage
An aerial view shows a statue of Eureka, part of the Pioneer Monument, looking over squares painted on the ground to encourage homeless people to keep to social distancing at a city-sanctioned homeless encampment across from City Hall in San Francisco, California, on May 22, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

San Francisco reportedly ordered government-run gyms and fitness centers to close on Wednesday after private gym owners spoke out against the city, which had already been forcing private-run gyms to stay closed.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Health Director Dr. Tomás Aragón distributed a letter to city officials Wednesday explaining that city-run gyms, such as those in police departments and at City Hall, contained the same risk of spreading coronavirus as private gyms, and as such, should not remain open.

“I recognize that there has been some confusion about the interplay between my orders and the changing State orders and Cal-OSHA requirements and some question about what is allowed as Essential Governmental Services under my orders,” Aragón wrote in the letter, obtained by the Chronicle. “But the same health and safety concerns that have compelled me to temporarily close indoor gyms due to potential transmission of COVID‐19 apply to the operation of the indoor City gyms. Indoor gyms and fitness centers greatly increase the risk of virus transmission, including from asymptomatic people, due to the relatively limited air circulation, the increase in particle exhalation due to exertion, and the increased risk of people touching shared equipment.”

Dave Karakker, co-owner of two MX3 gyms and a leader of a fitness studio coalition, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the city’s decision to close its gyms rather than allow all gyms to open was disappointing.

“The city has demonstrated that indoor fitness is safe based on the data derived by the SFPD safely running six months of indoor gym operations,” he said.

San Francisco, the first city in the nation to issue a shelter-in-place order, drew the ire of gym owners earlier this month after a local newspaper reported that government-run gyms didn’t have to comply with the shutdown mandate. 

“It’s shocking; it’s infuriating. … Even though they’re getting exposed, there are no repercussions, no ramifications? It’s shocking,” Danielle Rabkin, of Crossfit Golden Gate, told NBC News after she reportedly reached out to police officers she knew and was told they were allowed to use the gyms at the department.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department told KTVU: “The Department requires sworn members perform and pass a physical fitness exam every six months (twice annually). Because of these requirements and the periodic testing, the SFPD has private gym facilities at all locations throughout the city of San Francisco and they continue to operate in consultation with our Health partners.”

NBC News also reported that the City Hall gym, which is open to employees, judges, bailiffs, and plaintiffs, had a sign establishing rules of operation effective as of July 1.

“What the city has unwittingly done is created this great case study that says that working out indoors is actually safe,” Karraker told NBC News, before the policy change. “So at this point, we’re just demanding that they allow us to have the same workout privileges for the citizens of San Francisco that the employees of San Francisco have.”

Update: The day after the city health director distributed the letter instructing gyms in government buildings to close, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that indoor gyms could re-open with limited capacity beginning on Monday. 

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