Some metro Phoenix gyms reopen, despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s order

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Chris Scheimann has owned Tangible Fitness for nearly 20 years, and he doesn’t want to see it shut down because of the pandemic. (Photo: Helena Wegner/The Republic)

Several fitness centers around metro Phoenix are open, despite orders from the state to remain closed until COVID-19 rates decline.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order weeks ago closing gyms, among other businesses, to prevent spreading the virus. Monday, he released detailed reopening guidelines that make it clear it will be weeks before gyms are allowed to reopen in many Arizona counties.

The governor’s order states that “indoor gyms or fitness clubs or centers” shall pause operations. The order does not address the size of the fitness center, the type of fitness activity, or whether the gym requires memberships.

But enforcement is left to local law enforcement, and many agencies are not proactively patrolling for rogue gyms. 

Instead, police departments are responding to complaints of businesses violating the governor’s order and giving businesses that are out of compliance a warning, followed by a citation in some instances if they return and again find the business out of compliance.

Tangible Fitness in Phoenix

Owner Chris Scheimann of Tangible Fitness in northeast Phoenix is going against the executive order by reopening his gym one day after the state laid out the new path for gyms and bars to reopen.

He said Ducey’s order was unclear and that the governor had promised to review the order every two weeks but hasn’t done so.

Instead, the Arizona Department of Health Services posted recommendations for the “eventual safe reopening of paused businesses.” 

Scheimann said he has tried to contact the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health Services for clarification, but no one has responded to him. 

“I’ve been closed for four months. I can’t stay closed off forever,” Scheimann said.

His gym reopened only for a short period when the first stay-at-home order ended in May. 

He said Phoenix police also have offered no direction on new guidelines. Two officers stopped by his gym on Tuesday and didn’t give him a citation, he said. 

Scheimann said the officers told him their captain instructed them to respond to the complaint, but they had no directive on what to do after that.

Tangible Fitness is operating at 17% capacity. If people want to work out, they have to make an appointment, wear a face mask, keep a six foot distance from others and get their temperature checked before entering the equipment area.

Scheimann said he strictly enforces the safety rules at his gym. 

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One Phoenix gym never shut down

A training facility in south Phoenix near Ahwatukee has remained open throughout the pandemic. And the owners said they’ve never received any warnings from police, despite the governor’s executive order and the city and county mask mandates. 

But one of the co-owners of Self Made Training Facility, Tessa Mahaffey, said police harassed them daily at their Scottsdale location, which also remained open. 

Mahaffey said police would drive around their parking lot and appeared to watch people come and go from the facility.

More than a week into the governor’s second state gym closure, she switched her business to a “private members association,” which she says excludes her business from the governor’s order.

When she did this, she said, Scottsdale police stopped giving daily warnings.

She said no one is required to wear a mask in the building, even though Maricopa mandated face coverings in all public spaces for people older than 6. 

Small pilates business reopens

Jackie Parks, co-owner of The Workshop Pilates, reopened her small Scottsdale studio on Monday.

Parks said her business opened earlier this year before shutting down in March and June to curb the spread of COVID-19. She says she can’t afford to stay closed any longer.

At her studio, only six to 10 people can fit in the area at one time, which she says is a small enough number to keep people in a safe environment. 

“We are not a gym. It’s a small pilates studio,” Parks said.

Enforcement a challenge

Enforcing the closure of gyms is more difficult that some other businesses.

Bars have more at stake because the state can revoke their liquor license, putting them out of business entirely. Gyms have no such license, making enforcement spottier.

“A unique thing about gyms is that, unlike some of these other industries, there is not a specific regulatory agency,” said Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff. “That’s why we specifically gave that authority in the executive orders to the county public health and local law enforcement.”

It’s been a problem since Ducey issued the order to close gyms, bars, water parks and tubing on June 29.

Several gyms initially balked at the order and remained open.

But the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control suspended the ability of some Life Time Fitness locations to sell alcohol in their cafes, and municipal police departments cited others, including a Mountainside Fitness gym near Shea and Tatum boulevards.

Phoenix police spokeswoman Mercedes Fortune said the governor’s order calls for warnings first.

“Our officers are leading with education, providing each business with an informational pamphlet,” she said in early July when Mountainside was cited.

She said the information didn’t deter the gym, and it was cited under A.R.S. 26-317 for violating the governor’s executive order.

Scarpinato said “several” municipalities have taken such action.

“Several municipalities did take action on some of those businesses when the executive orders were first put into place,” Scarpinato said. “We will continue to work with the local public health departments and our local cities and towns to make sure there is enforcement.”

One possible origin of confusion over the gym closure orders may be the lawsuits filed over them, including one from Mountainside and EoS Fitness.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason initially upheld Ducey’s order that the gyms close, then later ruled that the state needed to give gyms criteria to reopen. 

The Governor’s Office did that Monday with a complex set of requirements that must be met before gyms and bars reopen.

That decision from the court did not mean the Governor’s closure order was overturned, and it did not mean gyms could reopen this week.

“The order only gives the gyms a chance to apply for reopening,” Thomason wrote in one decision. “It does not order that any fitness center be opened or that anyone be immediately put back to work.”

Even Mountainside acknowledged this week that gyms in the county are not allowed to be open.

“As we digested yesterday’s release of the governor’s ‘newest’ version of protocols and the introduction of metrics, it has presented insurmountable hurdles for (Mountainside) to open tomorrow, Wednesday,” Mountainside CEO and founder Tom Hatten said in a Tuesday statement.

He said the gym has filed a motion of contempt in its lawsuit with the governor. 

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or on Twitter @WegnerHelena.

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