California fitness centers sue state over virus closures

Andrew Dewey makes sure weights are properly stored on the first day 24-Hour Fitness reopened
District manager for Orange County Andrew Dewey makes sure weights are properly stored on the first day 24-Hour Fitness reopened in Costa Mesa on Sept. 9.
(Raul Roa / Daily Pilot)

California fitness centers have filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus unfairly target the industry and are demanding they be allowed to reopen.

The California Fitness Alliance, which represents nearly 300 businesses, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Scott Street, a lawyer for the group, said Tuesday.

The suit accuses state and L.A. County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the alliance.


“We are not looking for a fight,” said Schuler, who is chief executive of In-Shape Health Clubs. “We are committed to being as safe as possible. We are in the health business. That’s what we care about more than anything.”

Messages were sent seeking comment from the California Department of Public Health and L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The suit is one of many filed by California sectors walloped by closures due to the pandemic. Newsom’s administration let many businesses reopen in spring but shut them again in July as virus cases surged and is now allowing reopenings to take place in phases as counties see virus cases diminish.

Under state rules, fitness centers can reopen indoors at 10% of capacity when a county’s infections drop from “widespread” to “substantial.” In counties with infections in the “minimal” category, gyms can reopen indoors at 50% capacity.

The closures have devastated the fitness industry, which could see between 30% and 40% of businesses close for good, Schuler said. They have also worsened the health of many residents who rely on gyms for exercise at a time when the public is being urged to stay healthy to protect themselves against COVID-19, she said.

The alliance also questioned why fitness centers are facing more restrictive measures than restaurants when gym equipment can be spaced out and patrons are required to wear masks.


Statewide, California’s coronavirus infection rate has dropped steadily for weeks. As of last Tuesday, however, infections in 33 of the state’s 58 counties were still rated widespread, requiring schools to only offer distance learning and most businesses to limit their indoor operations.