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Two San Diego County gyms stay open as COVID-19 cases continue to climb

People rally May 13 in support of opening small businesses outside the Metroflex Gym in Oceanside.
(Don Boomer / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Two recently reopened public gyms in Oceanside and Vista were still accepting members Thursday, despite county and state prohibitions, but owners at both locations said they fear they could be forced to shut down at any time.

Oceanside police arrested Metroflex Gym owner Lou Uridel on Sunday. He was released the same day, and he opened the business again Wednesday after holding what he called a “freedom rally” attended by well over 100 people in the parking lot outside his business.

He said Thursday afternoon that police had warned him again that he could be cited for each day he remains open, but so far the officers had taken no additional action.

Uridel was only the second person cited in Oceanside for violating COVID-19 health restrictions, said police spokesman Tom Bussey. The previous arrest was several weeks ago, when lifeguards detained a surfer who ignored repeated warnings to leave the ocean, before the county lifted the surfing ban in late April.

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“Our objective is one of education and compliance,” Bussey said Thursday afternoon. “Most people are good about doing what is asked. We are trying to protect lives here.”

A separate northern San Diego County fitness business, the Gym Vista, reopened May 7 and remains open despite the state and county prohibitions on nonessential businesses.

That gym, on Thibodo Court near Sycamore Avenue and state Route 78, was crowded with people working out on clanging iron machines Thursday afternoon. No one wore masks, and few appeared to be maintaining a six-foot distance.

Manager and co-owner Todd Danner said sheriff’s deputies have warned him that he could be cited, but so far he has not been. He said patrol cars drive by the location several times a day, apparently in response to phone calls.

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Before its reopening, the Vista gym sent a news release to the media and city officials, stating that it would adhere to all public health guidelines, hire additional cleaning staff, and require members to declare that they have no COVID-19 symptoms and sign waivers accepting personal responsiblity.

“We wanted to make it known we were opening up for the community we serve,” Danner said.

“The worst thing you can do is stay home,” he said. “The best thing is to build your immune system.”

Sheriff’s Department officials said Wednesday that a number of citations have been issued for violations of the state and county emergency health guidelines, but they could not detail the numbers or specific cases.

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Adding to the sometimes difficult situation is the layering of federal, state and local guidelines for public safety, any of which can change on any day. The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to spread and take more lives daily, is unlike any disease the world has seen in some time.

San Diego County’s death toll reached 200 this week, and nationwide the coronavirus is blamed for more than 86,000 deaths. Many of those victims were elderly patients or people with other serious illnesses, but the virus could be responsible for uncounted fatalities in people who were not tested.

When to reopen nonessential businesses has become a hot political issue, as the economy falters and unemployment climbs to highs not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

One Oceanside City Council member, Christopher Rodriguez, has publicly urged businesses to defy shut-down orders.

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“It’s about survival,” Rodriguez said in a letter released to media outlets this week. “Residents can’t afford to pay their rent and health insurance. Each day that passes, multiple Oceanside businesses permanently close, and the wealth of a generation diminishes.”

The Oceanside Police Officers Assn. and the Oceanside mayor both have responded with letters critical of Rodriguez’s position.

County Supervisor Jim Desmond also has pushed for the immediate opening of businesses, saying it’s time to move “from essential to safe.”

Meanwhile, county health officials are urging everyone to stay home except for essential needs such as healthcare and purchasing groceries.

Updates:

3:55 PM, May. 15, 2020: This story has been updated to include comments from law enforcement in Vista and Oceanside.


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