On July 29, George Jackson and his business partner Rick Stephenson read in press reports that there was an outbreak of COVID-19 at one of the two TG The Gym clubs that they own in California. The problem? Neither they nor anyone at their TG The Gym San Diego club or their TG The Gym Vista club had been notified by government health officials of an outbreak, Jackson told Club Industry. As of Aug. 3, they still have heard nothing from officials or been asked to help with contact tracing.
Because he hasn’t received any notification, Jackson can’t confirm whether or not there were any cases at either of his facilities, he said.
“In my opinion, if anyone had tested positive and worked out at our gym, the appropriate response would be for the public health office to have contacted us first directly, not the media,” he said. “We would have signed waivers and releases protecting privacy rights and HIPAA rights of the individuals and determined what time these people entered the gym, as well as notifying any staff members or others in the gym where close, extended contact may have occurred.”
Club Industry has reached out to San Diego County for comment about the COVID-19 notification process but has not heard back yet.
Despite no notification by the county, the State Public Health Office did notify the TG The Gym team on July 24 that their decision to keep their gyms open after the governor’s July 13 order closing indoor gyms in 30 counties was a violation. In response, Jackson and Stephenson closed both locations on July 26 and worked with officials on how to safely reopen their gyms outdoors, Jackson said. He offered kudos to Vista Mayor Judy Ritter, North County San Diego Supervisor Jim Desmond and Chief Resilience Officer/County COVID-19 Reopening Lead Gary Johnston, all of whom he said have been supportive of small businesses in the area.
“We can all do a much better job of containing the spread if we all work together," he said. "Individual responsibility has to be the starting and ending point for combating this virus. Bigger government, more regulations and restrictions and a media that is accountable to no one cannot be the long-term solutions to this pandemic.”
Because gyms in the state can operate outdoors, Jackson’s team is moving equipment into the parking lots at both locations. TG The Gym San Diego will reopen outdoors by Aug. 7 and TG The Gym Vista will reopen outdoors by Aug. 10, Jackson said. Both facilities will be open 24 hours per day so that they can leave the equipment outside with supervision.
When the clubs, which are hardcore bodybuilding gyms, reopened in June after the temporary March closures, they continued to have about 1,200 of their 4,000 members show up each day, which was similar to the number of daily visits prior to COVID-19, Jackson said.
“We are investing in the health and well-being of our members by building outdoor gyms in our San Diego and Vista locations as mandated by the State of California,” he said. “Servicing our members every day is how we started and that is how we will continue to run TG The Gym. I would encourage all other small gyms to do the same. Support our industry – call your local fitness industry architect to design your outdoor space, buy some new fitness equipment, flooring and other accessories. I know all my longtime friends on the supply side of this business could really use your support.”
Jackson also pointed to gyms safely operating in other countries, specifically noting Taiwan where a friend of his operates the largest gym chain in the country and has never been forced to close, instead operating at full capacity.
“We will continue to promote the fact that a good immune system is the first and most important element in the defense of this COVID–19 virus,” Jackson said. “Daily vigorous exercise, a healthy well-balanced diet, proper amount of sleep, Vitamin D (get in sun and outdoors) and managing your stress are the main ingredients to maintaining a good immune system.”
Jackson shared more on his views about gyms being an essential part of the world during this pandemic in this podcast.