[Update: 2:30 p.m. ET, July 2, 2020. This story has been updated with comments from Life Time and with a note from EOS Fitness that they have closed their clubs in the state.]
Mountainside Fitness and Life Time are two health club chains that are defying a closure order from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey for all gyms in the state starting June 29. Mountainside Fitness has filed a lawsuit to stay the order.
Citing the state of Arizona’s rising COVID-19 cases, Ducey ordered on June 29 that health clubs, along with water parks and movie theaters, close at 8 p.m. that day. Home improvement stores and casinos are some of the businesses allowed to remain open.
As of June 30, Arizona had 79,215 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,632 deaths from it.
Mountainside Fitness CEO Tom Hatten held a press conference after the order was announced stating that he would defy the order because It was arbitrary and that he would sue for a stay of the order.
“Governor Ducey gave us less than 5 hours to alert all 100,000 members and figure out how we can keep 1,500 employees on the payroll,” Hatten said in the press conference. “We are not a small business. We didn’t qualify for the Payroll Protection Plan. Our employees still need a paycheck and rely on our medical benefits. We have been forced to file this suit, and we are asking the courts to issue a stay of the order.”
The club remained open on June 29 until its regular closing time of 11 p.m., and it reopened in the morning at 4:30 a.m. Hatten shared with local media that several of his clubs have received citations for remaining open.
Mountainside Fitness filed the lawsuit on June 30, asking for a stay of the order and noting it was operating in compliance with guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services for health clubs.
Hatten said there has been no evidence or direct link between use of health clubs and transmission of COVID-19. The decision to close health clubs state-wide but allow restaurants, casinos and stores to remain open does not make sense, he said.
“We are just as concerned about this virus as everyone, but singling out and closing health clubs, after we sat closed for two months is not going to keep the virus from spreading,” he said in a media release. “Every business in America should be concerned that our civil liberties are being compromised and taken from us. The randomness of these decisions has no factual basis and the lack of transparency to all the information to support this is non-existent."
Hatten appeared on “Cuomo Primetime” on CNN on July 1 where he said that health clubs have an ability to control social distancing through closing off certain pieces of equipment and to control cleaning by providing cleaning wipes better than other businesses that have been allowed to remain open, such as retail stores.
After reopening a little more than a month ago, Mountainside Fitness implemented a series of safety measures, including training staff on COVID-19, installing sanitizing stations throughout the club, and continuously disinfecting frequently touched areas and equipment throughout the day with CDC-approved disinfectant. To maintain social distancing, cardio equipment is spaced with every other machine turned off. All employees and staff wear masks. Towel cleaning temperatures have been increased to 150 degrees. Group fitness classes have decreased capacities, and more classes have been added to the schedules to offer guests more options. All employees have their temperature checked prior to each shift and are required to wash their hands every hour. Disposable face masks are also available to staff. Children entering childcare have their temperature checked, and any child with a temperature above 99.9 degrees will not be permitted.
Life Time also is keeping its clubs open in the state, noting that the company is following the Arizona Department of Health Services’ guidance. Because of this, the company is taking the position that governmental action should not be taken against Life Time given its good faith efforts to comply with the order through the compliance attestation process.
A statement from Life Time says: “Life Time remains incredibly committed to our members, who have clearly indicated their desire to have uninterrupted access to the expansive array of health and entertainment services, amenities and programs we provide. Additionally, in support of the nearly 1,500 Life Time team members in Arizona, we are concerned with further disrupting their livelihoods after the challenging impact posed by the shutdowns in place since mid-March.
“With this in mind, we intend to continue serving members in every area of the club. We can attest that our enhanced cleaning protocols and safety measures in our spacious destinations are in compliance with the guidance issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services with respect to COVID-19. Because of this and the ample space provided by our large health, fitness and entertainment destinations, we believe Life Time is as safe as other businesses, including those remaining unaffected by these revised restrictions. Of course, we continue to uphold appropriate social distancing measures and the requirement that masks be worn in common areas and anytime physical distancing is not possible.”
EOS Fitness noted on its Facebook page that it closed its clubs at 8 p.m. on June 29 in compliance with the governor’s orders. Initially, some press reports indicated the EOS might also defy orders, but EOS Fitness informed Club Industry that it is complying. The Facebook post about closing on June 29 noted that the company has hosted 1.4 million workouts since reopening in May with 0.0037 percent of member and team member COVID-1 cases being reported.
“This is a testament to all of your dedication towards our commitment to making EOS Fitness a safe place that people can count on,” the post states. “Between the additional steps towards safety, cleaning protocols, increased hours dedicated towards cleaning and heightened level of service we have proven that it is possible for fitness to be part of the solution stepping towards getting back to normal.”
IHRSA, the trade association for commercial health clubs, has written a letter to Ducey asking him to allow gyms to reopen and is urging others in the industry to do the same by going here.