Indoor gyms that serve San Francisco police officers and other government employees have reopened for workouts for limited numbers of people at a time, and San Francisco gym and fitness studio owners are decrying this as hypocritical when they are forced to remain closed.
The San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition has been making noise about the city's extended closure orders for small and boutique fitness operations for several weeks. They cite the fact that much of what they do, one client at a time, is similar to what physical therapists do with weights and other equipment, and physical therapists have been allowed to reopen their offices for months now.
Now the coalition has tipped off the local media to the fact that the City of San Francisco has had its indoor gym facilities for city employees open for some time — and the city reportedly requested a waiver with Cal-OSHA to allow them to do so.
Mission Local confirms the story with documentation, reporting that a Police Department-run gym at the Public Safety building at 1245 Third Street has been open since at least May, and other gyms at the Hall of Justice on Bryant and the Medical Examiner's Office have been operational as well. Another gym at the Department of Public Works was not open because it had been repurposed into a storage facility. The police gym reportedly operates with only seven patrons allowed in at one time, and gym-goers are encouraged to take their cardio outdoors.
"While City employees may now workout indoors in an open gym environment, the rest of San Francisco gyms remain closed due to COVID restrictions," says Dave Karraker, an organizer of the coalition and co-owner of MX3 Fitness in the Castro. "The hypocrisy of such action by the City is in stark contrast to the announcement from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce [last] Tuesday, stating that 54% of businesses in the City are now closed. San Francisco’s entire fitness industry, closed for almost six months, is on the verge of complete collapse."
Karraker notes that seven of the businesses in the 70-member coalition of small gyms and fitness studios that formed in July have since closed for good, and the rest are struggling and operating at a loss, only able to serve a few clients in outdoor spaces.
And he further pointed to the odd mistake Mayor London Breed seemed to make last week in announcing that gyms could reopen outdoors on September 9, when in fact they've been allowed open outdoors for two months.
"If the city has established that there is a way for residents of San Francisco to be able to work out indoors safely, no matter who they are, that standard should be allowed for every person in the city,” Karraker says in a statement.
Dr. Grant Colfax, the city's director of public health, has remained firm in his belief that working out indoors presents too much of a risk for virus transmission. And he was apparently unaware that any city-worker gyms had been open.
"There are allowances in the Health Order for government services to deem what is essential, so there is at least a theoretical possibility that gyms could be open," Colfax said, adding that this still goes against public health advice.
In a statement to Mission Local, the SFPD says, "Sworn SFPD personnel, as a condition of their employment, are required to maintain their physical fitness... The Department requires sworn members perform and pass a physical fitness exam every six months (twice annually). Because of these requirements and the periodic testing, the SFPD has private gym facilities at all locations throughout the city of San Francisco and they continue to operate in consultation with our Health partners."
SF's Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón seemed to confirm during an August meeting of the Small Business Commission that keeping fitness studios closed may have been an arbitrary choice. "I can’t give you a rational reason why a physical therapist can do this and someone who does personal services, who I know can mitigate risk, can’t," Aragón said. He added that the city's reopening guidelines have led to "picking one industry over another," and "picking winners and losers," and, "It is hard to defend and ended up being harmful."
Because of Aragón's statements, the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition filed a legal request with the city on August 14 formally requesting that small gyms be allowed to reopen. And last week, on August 25, the coalition staged a protest at City Hall alongside owners of tattoo studios, massage studios, estheticians, entertainment venues, demanding that they be given a more certain reopening schedule and financial assistance.
As of Tuesday, hair salons and massage studios were allowed to reopen in the city for outdoor services only, under Colfax's updated orders. According to state guidelines released Friday, a "red" tier county like San Francisco would be allowed to have these businesses reopen indoors with specific guidelines including capacity limits and masks — and gyms and fitness centers would be allowed open at 10-percent capacity. But as has been the case for months, local health orders take precedence over the state's guidelines when the local order is stricter.
Photo: San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition