As long as Deschutes County remains in the high-risk category, under the Oregon Health Authority’s guidance created to contain the spread of COVID-19, area gyms and fitness centers will remain closed.
“As the Governor has made it clear: It’s critical that Oregonians do their part in adhering to the measures and guidelines in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent further spikes in infections and hospitalizations,” Liz Merah, Gov. Kate Brown’s press secretary, said in an email.
The current guidance has Planet Fitness franchise owner Dan Afrasiabi frustrated.
Planet Fitness and two other fitness groups asked the governor late last year to allow indoor gyms to reopen with restrictions and be recognized as essential services. Afrasiabi said that only California and Oregon bar indoor fitness centers from reopening while COVID-19 cases surge.
“Not a single report generated by the Oregon Health Authority points to a fitness industry as the source of the virus spread,” the authors said in the letter to the governor. “The University of Oregon has released a study showing that fitness centers and gyms do not pose the same risk for COVID-19 spread as other venues, such as restaurants and bars.”
Deschutes County has been under the extreme risk category since early December. The category, which is determined by how widespread the disease is and the percent of positivity, specifies activities that are allowed. Indoor fitness centers are not allowed to operate in the extreme risk category.
State health officials update the counties and the risk category on Tuesdays, and the guidelines go in effect on Fridays.
Afrasiabi’s firm, which owns the Bend Planet Fitness on Greenwood Avenue and nine other franchised Planet Fitness centers in Oregon and two in Alaska, was closed through May, reopened June through November, and closed again in December.
“We don’t control when the county comes out of the extreme category,” Afrasiabi said. “We’ve asked the governor to allow fitness centers to open under different guidelines. The worst-case scenario is us opening and having to close again.”
Merah said the metrics are designed to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
At Planet Fitness gyms, Afrasiabi said, each facility meets the state mandates for health and safety, reorganizing the gym to maintain physical distance, requiring masks and sanitizing equipment. The fitness centers in Oregon have not charged its members the monthly membership fee while closed due to government mandates.
“I understand the governor has a responsibility for keeping the state safe,” Afrasiabi said. “We think we’re part of the solution, not the problem. We’re safely operating. We’ve have proven we can do it. Just let us reopen.”