Arizona is in COVID Hell—and Forced to Go After Rogue Gyms

Al Bello/Getty
Al Bello/Getty

Arizona set a record Wednesday for new coronavirus cases, and 90 percent of the state’s ICU beds are filled. But that’s not stopping some gym owners from ignoring new lockdown rules and opening for business—prompting Gov. Doug Ducey to launch a crackdown on rogue fitness fanatics.

Ducey released an executive order Monday shutting down all bars, gyms, theaters, water parks, and inner tubing locations until at least July 27, calling the latest COVID-19 case numbers “brutal.” It was a swift turnaround from his declaration earlier this month that he would not impose new restrictions despite the growing case numbers—and many gym owners weren’t happy about it.

“If this is truly as bad as we are being told, I don’t think health clubs closing tomorrow is going to solve the problem,” Mountainside Fitness owner Tom Hatten said in a press conference, as the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state topped 1,600.

“I don’t think [ending] tubing is going to solve the problem. I don’t think closing a movie theater that hasn’t been open is going to solve the problem.”

Hatten has filed a lawsuit against the governor, claiming the order is a violation of his due process and equal protection rights. In the suit, he claimed to have purchased “state of the art sanitation equipment” and rearranged the gym facilities in order to keep customers safe, and said the governor’s office had not provided a promised reauthorization form that would have let him reopen. At the press conference, Hatten called the order “arbitrary” and said businesses needed “clarity” from the government. 

On Tuesday, police hit a Scottsdale Mountainside Fitness location with a citation that could result in a fine of up to $2,500. A spokesperson for the governor’s office told ABC15 that Ducey had spoken with police chiefs that day and told them to be more aggressive in enforcing the order.

On Wednesday, the Arizona Liquor Department reportedly suspended two liquor licenses for the Biltmore location of Life Time Fitness, another gym franchise that refused to follow the governor’s order. (In a statement, Life Time Fitness said it is “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.”)

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The ramped-up enforcement seemed to be having an effect on at least a few franchises. An employee at Desert Fitness, which posted on Facebook Tuesday that it would remain open, said the gym had decided to cease operations as of Wednesday morning. 

“It’s either stay open and take the fines that they issue or go to court over it, and we are not willing to do either of those things,” said the employee, Hunter, who declined to give his last name.

Megan Burrola, the assistant manager at CycleBar in McCormick, said her studio had also decided to shut down as of Wednesday morning, after speaking with government and police officials. The cycling studio had initially tried to claim that its smaller size exempted it from the shutdown order, and Burrola said management was still pursuing that avenue.

“We’re working with our legal team because we do believe we qualify as a more private boutique, not a fitness center,” she said. 

A spokesperson for the governor said in a statement that the order was clear: “Gyms and other indoor fitness clubs or centers, regardless of size, shall pause operations until at least July 27.” But a number of fitness destinations seemed set on staying open because of their smaller size. 

A PureBarre studio in North Scottsdale kept its doors open Wednesday, writing on Instagram that the studio’s “small, ‘boutique’ setting” made the owners “confident in our ability to safely operate and remain open.” (In a response to a comment from someone calling the decision “very disappointing,” owner Marirose Weyand wrote that she would “like the negative comments and energy dismissed from this page.” She did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

BodyVision Fitness, a gym in Glendale, also wrote on Facebook that it would stay open due to its classification as a “micro-gym.” The company did not respond to calls and emails about who, exactly, had classified them as such.

And an employee at the YogaSix studio in Scottsdale told The Daily Beast that her location had also resumed classes as of Wednesday morning. Five people showed up to that morning’s class, where participants are not required to wear masks.

“We actually feel strongly that our boutique fitness studio concept doesn’t fall under the category of a gym,” said the employee, Heather, who declined to give her last name. 

“It’s just such a safe space compared to restaurants that are still open and grocery stores and so many places that are still open,” she continued, adding, “We’re here for the wellness of our members.”

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