In summary

The governor closed indoor fitness centers last summer, won’t turn over information why or explain what gyms must do to re-open.

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By Scott J. Street, Special to CalMatters

Scott J. Street is an attorney and partner with Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP, He represents the California Fitness Alliance and writes about legal and political issues.

There has been a tremendous focus on how California can improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the vaccine is not the only prerequisite to recovery. Gov. Gavin Newsom must also acknowledge that fitness is essential to health and restore access to indoor fitness establishments.

Unfortunately, the governor has ignored science, inexplicably closing indoor fitness establishments last summer. The administration won’t turn over information about why it closed gyms or explain what they must do to reopen.

California is the only state in America that has not allowed indoor fitness to resume. Why?

We know it is not inherently dangerous to be inside for a short period of time with appropriate safety precautions. Best Buy, Costco and other retailers are open, and have been for months. Nail salons and barbershops resumed indoor operations with the state’s blessing. And, bizarrely, despite prohibiting indoor fitness, the state now allows people to exercise indoors with a personal trainer. 

The governor may have thought that was a compromise; it’s not. It only helps the affluent, who can afford the trainers, while hurting millions of ordinary Californians who need a safe and secure place to exercise.

This inequity has troubling consequences. A report from Emicity Research notes the lack of access to exercise facilities has disproportionately impacted poor Californians. It revealed that among households with annual income below $75,000, 62% said they did not have access to safe outdoor exercise. Discouraging fitness creates a significant public health risk by worsening the rate of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and higher cholesterol.

We are all paying the price in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Many who have died suffered from multiple comorbidities, especially health issues related to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42% of American adults are obese, 12% more than in 2000. This number will rise due to COVID-19. Regular exercise is proven to reduce obesity and therefore critical to fighting COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Exercise will also be vital in dealing with mental health issues that will undoubtedly linger for people suffering through seemingly endless lockdowns.

The fitness lockdown is not based on science and disregards overwhelming evidence that gyms have followed strict health and sanitizing protocols and are safe. An International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association study found a .002% infection rate among 49 million gym check-ins nationwide. That number mirrored the rate among California gyms last summer. In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that contact tracing in his state showed gyms accounted for just 0.06% of all virus transmission sources.

Californians should have access to the data their government has gathered about the spread of COVID-19. California courts have often spoken of the need for greater transparency in government business. A few years ago, in City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith), the state’s Supreme Court said we do not have to “presume public officials conduct official business in the public’s best interest. The Constitution neither creates nor requires such an optimistic presumption …. Open access to government records is essential to verify that government officials are acting responsibly and held accountable to the public they serve. Such access permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process.” Those words ring true today.

This is especially important for California’s gyms and fitness facilities, which are not just key to fighting COVID-19 but are an important part of the economy. Hundreds of facilities have closed, some permanently, and several have been forced to file for bankruptcy. That means lost jobs, lost income and lost opportunity for people who are in the business of keeping others healthy.

This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. There are no easy solutions. But every solution requires that people invest in their health. That means recognizing the benefits of exercise and re-opening fitness facilities as quickly as possible.

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