Gyms remain open despite recent outbreak at Pacific Beach business

Multiple gyms across San Diego County remained open Thursday, despite the outbreak reported this week at one Pacific Beach fitness business, The Gym, that had been operating illegally.

The Gym was closed Thursday afternoon, and inside a person could be seen measuring a floor mat. The nutrition shop attached to the gym remained open. The clerk at the shop said the gym was in the process of readying its equipment to move outdoors.

Three people or more testing positive for COVID-19 is considered an outbreak. Of the 235 outbreaks so far countywide, five were in gyms, a county spokesman said Thursday. About half of all outbreaks were in congregate care facilities.

MetroFlex Gym owner Lou Uridel.

The MetroFlex Gym closed back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and remained closed for almost two months. Owner Lou Uridel has taken every precaution necessary to comply with reopening, including reducing the maximum capacity from 193 to 35 members working out at any given time.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

No gym is allowed to operate indoors under the county health order first issued in March and updated again Thursday, the spokesman said. He could not say which other gyms had reported novel coronavirus cases.

Many of the large chains such as Crunch and 24-Hour Fitness are closed, but some of the smaller, independent gyms have defied the county order.

Another fitness center called The Gym, with different owners, was filled with clients Thursday morning in Vista, many not wearing masks or maintaining the required 6-foot distance. Co-owner Todd Danner said the management planned to move their equipment outside to the parking lot, and he did not look happy about it.

“Some of these (weight) stacks weigh 1,000 pounds,” Danner said. Movers were coming to help carry things, and he needs to buy tents and artificial turf for the asphalt.

Bottles of disinfectant are located at various locations in the Metroflex Gym.

Bottles of disinfectant are located at various locations in the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside for members to use on equipment when they finish.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

He feels like his business already complies with the county’s emergency public health order, he said. Still, Vista city officials sent him a list of things that needed be done.

Later Thursday, the Vista Sheriff’s Station received a formal complaint about the business, said Lt. Ricardo Lopez, media relations director for the Sheriff’s Department.

“Deputies visited the business just before 12:30 p.m. to notify gym staff they were in violation of the public health order,” Lopez said by email. “They were given an updated copy of the current order. A formal crime case is being written and will be submitted to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.”

Violation of the county health order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both, Lopez said. No one answered the phone at The Gym in Vista late Thursday afternoon.

April Glassell works out six days a week at the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.

April Glassell works out six days a week at the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside. The gym closed back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and remained close for almost two months. Owner Lou Uridel has taken every precaution necessary to comply with reopening including reducing the max capacity from 193 to 35 members working out at any given time.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The county had issued a total of 144 citations for violating the county health orders through Wednesday, according to the Sheriff’s Department’s website.

Boulevard Fitness in City Heights was open and operating Thursday morning in a large open area with open garage-door-sized windows that opened nearly an entire wall of the multi-level building to open air. Fans on the floor and ceiling created a noticeable breeze throughout the space.

Some areas, such as an area with treadmills and an exercise room, were closed off because they did not have windows or doors to the outside, said owner Shawn Gilbert. Customers, almost all of whom were wearing face coverings, sanitized their hands and got their temperature taken before being allowed inside. Machines were spaced 6 feet apart – Gilbert said they measured carefully – and there was a covered, open-air area outside the big windows with equipment in it where people who wanted to be all the way outside could work out.

The gym was not accepting new members and it had limited use to 50 percent of the facility’s capacity, Gilbert said. He said the gym would be closed on Sunday for professional deep cleaning.

Gym members Michael Perez and April Glassell run through several sets during their workout at Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.

Gym members Michael Perez and April Glassell run through several sets during their workout at Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gilbert said police had come by twice about a week ago in response to a noise complaint about the music in the gym. Gilbert said the music didn’t seem particularly loud to him, but he turned it down and police left. He said police did not express any other concerns about the gym’s operations.

No county officials or any sort of multi-agency “strike teams” had come to the gym, Gilbert said. He said he had not received any cease or desist letters from the county, nor any public health orders to close, and he felt “1,000 percent” sure the gym’s operations were permissible under public health orders.

No classes were underway Thursday at a jiu-jitsu gym in Normal Heights that had opened in defiance of the county’s public health order in May. One employee was inside the building. The main entrance was locked and the lobby was dark. A phone call to the gym reached voicemail and an email was not immediately answered Thursday afternoon.

Weights were being lifted at the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside, where owner Lou Uridel was briefly arrested in May for re-opening after a two-month closure in violation of the county health order. He has a court hearing scheduled for September.

April Glassell works out six days a week at the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.

April Glassell works out six days a week at the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Right now, we feel we are in compliance,” Uridel said Thursday afternoon.

Mask-wearing, which for a time was optional, is now mandatory, he said. He and his employees emphasize self-care, cleanliness, and distancing, and they encourage their clients to maintain a safe distance.

Occupancy of his building is limited to a maximum of 35 people, about 20 percent of its normal capacity, he said. Fans have been added and a rear door opened to keep air moving through the interior. Foot traffic is routed in one door and out another.

Police officers frequently stop by to check on his business, Uridel said. He tells them he is complying with the rules and that nothing has changed, and they leave.

Uridel, an attorney licensed in California and Illinois, said COVID-19 and its prevention has become a political issue and he appears OK with that. He recently decided to run for Oceanside mayor in November, and a big plank in his campaign is support for small businesses.

Located close to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, almost three-quarters of the clients at Metroflex are active-duty military or veterans. Some said they feel like a family.

Don Butts, a trainer who works six days a week at Metroflex, said he feels safe there.

“I haven’t gotten sick,” he said. “None of my clients have gotten sick.”

Oceanside police spokesman Tom Bussey said Thursday it is the county’s responsibility, not the city’s, to enforce the public health order.

Police have often said enforcement of the state and county public health orders is difficult for many reasons.

Some people claim that requiring a business to close violates the owner’s rights under the state and federal constitutions. Also, because the health orders are issued by the state and county, city police departments may not have the authority to enforce them.

County officials said this week they plan to form enforcement teams with representatives from each city in an attempt to improve compliance.


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