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South Sound gym to stay open ‘for the health of people’ despite restrictions

The Weight Room remains empty at Gold's Gym Islip on May 13, 2020 in West Islip, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The owner of a gym in the South Sound area is choosing to stay open despite the updated restrictions announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Per the new rules, gyms and fitness facilities are to be closed to indoor operations, but may still offer outdoor fitness classes at a limit of five people.

Paul, the gym owner, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that he’d prefer to leave out the name of his gym for now. He also doesn’t view his choice to stay open as “defying” the governor’s orders.

“I didn’t actually use the word defy,” he said. “I actually took a different approach to make it positive. And what I would say is that we’re not here to be against the government. We’re here to be for our members, for people, and for the health of people.”

“I received dozens of emails yesterday that supported what we were doing,” he added. “One lady said, ‘I recently made a decision to make myself healthy and to make it a priority, and it’s fallen on the back burner for so long that I decided to get help.’ And then she said, ‘I was absolutely crushed to hear the fitness centers were going to be forced to close. I spent all day yesterday crying.'”

Paul says when that woman found out the gym would be open, it changed her life because she said “it was like telling a drug addict to stay home and get clean on their own.”

“For her, she said, I’m stuck in a cycle. I need help, motivation, accountability and access. So we’re giving her that,” Paul said.

Paul says that since reopening in June, he’s had 55,000 check-ins with zero COVID cases. At his business and his neighboring businesses, there have been 150,000 check-ins with zero reported cases. Even across the United States, with nearly 50 million check-ins at gyms, a study found that 0.0023% tested positive for COVID-19.

Plus, as Dori points out, people who are healthy and physically fit have the best chance at fighting off COVID-19 if they were to get it.

From a business owner’s standpoint, Paul says the government hasn’t done enough to help small businesses survive the closures, and a second shutdown is only going to make it worse.

“There’s no government support out of this. There’s just a mandate that says: ‘Shut down. You’re going to save grandma’s life.’ And I don’t say that lightly,” Paul said. “We continue to drive cars on the road and there are people who die every day here in Washington state. We continue to do all kinds of things that people die of. We can’t stop all of that, but we do our best to mitigate that. And in the fitness industry, this is one of the things we can do.”

Since first shutting down, Paul says his gym has not been profitable. The momentum was going again after they’ve been open the past couple months, but now any forward progress has been stopped.

“This pile of dirt just got thrown on the railroad tracks and it’s stopping us again,” he said. “And if we don’t remove that dirt immediately and stay open, the train will be stopped. The momentum would be stopped, the income stops, and on the business end, most businesses, many are holding on by a thread.”

“And this second shutdown, we’ll shut down thousands and thousands of more businesses because they can’t do it now because there’s not enough government help,” he added. “And we can’t simply make money ourselves.”

Seattle restaurant owner says shutdown is ‘a very, very scary moment’

So what happens if, like the last shutdown, the government comes to Paul and closes the gym?

“I wish I knew,” he said. “But the scenarios that I’ve looked at are one: I’ve already stepped into the river and I’m out in the middle of it right now, and I’ve got to stay above water. So if they are to come, my first inclination is to say, you know what? At this point, I have to stay open. I’m sorry, and we’ll do it a different way.”

“I think that’s the first step,” he continued. “And then the big deal is, I think, in the fitness industry, again, not one of us can change the government’s mind. And so there’s an organization in Washington state now — the Washington Fitness Association — that is seeking to help fitness and gyms make a dent toward the government. I don’t know what all the movement is yet, but I am a part of that, and that’s going to make the difference in Washington state.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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