A great example is in Massachusetts. Many club operators moved portions of their operations outside and reopened after the governor’s announcement approving outdoor recreational activities with appropriate social distancing. However, one club operator found that their local public health official had a different interpretation of the governor’s order and was only allowing publicly owned recreational facilities to reopen. As a result, this operator found their doors remained closed while competitors one town over could offer limited outdoor fitness, despite being in the same state, under the same government order.
Local enforcement can also be variable. We have heard of county officials quietly informing businesses that they will not enforce certain safety restrictions while other counties in the state have organized task forces charged with aggressively enforcing those same restrictions.
IHRSA’s lobbyist in California, Jim Gross, has long stressed the importance of engaging with local officials now more than ever.
“In California, county health officers are instrumental in the decisions made regarding the opening of businesses during the pandemic,” said Gross. “The governor and the state public health officer set the base level requirements for which businesses may reopen when and provide the guidance for those reopenings. However, the county public officers, in conjunction with their boards of supervisors, may delay openings or impose additional protocols.”
In addition, the counties will be responsible for enforcement, including determining whether inspections should be done and what actions are taken in the event of violations. Because of variations in the prevalence of the virus and the overall readiness of each county, we can expect differences between counties in implementing the state guidance on health and fitness facility reopenings.”
The reopening process has been messy in some states, such as Arizona, which recently experienced a surge in coronavirus cases after reopening. As a result, the governor of Arizona declared a pause of reopening to slow the spread of COVID-19, stating in Executive Order: 2020-43 that indoor gyms and fitness clubs or centers—among other establishments—“shall pause operations until at least July 27, 2020, unless extended.”
Although there has not been any evidence of COVID-19 spreading in an Arizona health club—or any club for that matter—and facilities operated safely and abided by guidelines, the governor decided to include clubs in the closure. Because of this, IHRSA has set up a campaign with a goal to tell the governor the benefits of exercise with scientific evidence that shows health clubs pose no higher risk than other public places in transmitting COVID-19 when operating under appropriate guidelines.
If disparate enforcement and interpretation are not enough, in many instances, local officials have the power to create more restrictive rules than the state or national regulations. Operators in large cities are likely familiar with this aspect of government, where there are the laws of the state. Then there is New York City or Chicago, which follow the laws of the land.
It is vitally important clubs invest the time and effort in developing a good rapport with their local officials, particularly your local public health officials.