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Bay Area gym stays open to defy COVID-19 guidelines, gets hit with $550,000 fine

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Joshua Bote
SFGate, San Francisco

From a passerby’s point of view, California Ripped Fitness looks (mostly) plucked out of pre-pandemic times.

People walk in and out of the San Jose gym, clad in workout leggings, shorts and sneakers, continuing to work out despite state and county regulations that prohibit gyms from operating indoors.

California Ripped has some acknowledgments of the realities of the pandemic — a mask requirement and materials to wipe down equipment after use. It is unclear if there are any social distancing guidelines or capacity limits.

But the gym marches on, remaining open despite more than $500,000 in fines and the threat of legal action by Santa Clara County. In fact, it makes its feelings about the county shutdown abundantly clear.

“We’re not saying that there’s no virus or we don’t believe it,” said the gym’s manager to Bay Area News Group in an anonymous interview, “but we do believe that we can provide a place where people can come safely and stay healthy — and also provide the ability for us to pay our bills and make a living.

A sign photographed by the Bay Area News Group makes assorted claims about the gym’s opening being protected by the First and Fifth Amendments.

“We are protesting that health clubs and exercise are essential,” a sign posted outside the gym reads.

The gym, which also has locations in Lincoln, Granite Bay and Roseville, has received dozens of complaints from the county since December, KTVU-TV reported, when the county returned to the purple tier. (It was open in the months prior, when the county was in the red tier.)

While the gym’s owner told Bay Area News Group that the gym has yet to experience any outbreaks, community members and public health officials have expressed concern about the risks of the gym defying the state’s health guidelines amid the pandemic.

“It’s really unfortunate that the business owner continues to violate the health officer order, when many other businesses of a similar type are doing the right thing and protecting their customers,” Michael Balliet, the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health’s director, told KTVU. (A representative for the county did not immediately return a request for comment from SFGATE.)

Studies have repeatedly found that gyms are “superspreader” sites — even with measures in place to protect attendees. One case, in a Canadian gym, found that at least 60 people got COVID-19 despite distancing requirements and other safety measures in place.

As of Thursday, the county has reported over 103,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,473 deaths, a large chunk of which have taken place in the past three months.

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