Arizona gyms can’t open, judge rules, but state must let them apply
PHOENIX – Arizona’s gyms can’t resume operations, but the state must give them a way to apply for reopening, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason issued the ruling a day after hearing expert testimony in a lawsuit filed by Mountainside Fitness and EOS Fitness against Gov. Doug Ducey’s June executive order to close certain businesses, including gyms, in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
“The Executive Orders, as implemented, violate procedural due process,” the 24-page ruling says. “As set forth above, fitness centers must be provided a prompt opportunity to apply for reopening. The process for doing so must be in place within one week from the date of entry of this Order. The Executive Orders, however, do not violate substantive due process.”
Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told the court Monday that gym users can spread the virus through vigorous breathing within enclosed spaces, even when mask and social distancing requirements are followed.
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and a former state health director, testified on behalf of the health clubs. He said club members wearing masks and social distancing are safer than customers who take off masks while dining at restaurants.
The state’s restaurants are permitted to serve customers inside, but only if they keep occupancy below 50% of capacity.
Arizona’s gyms had been allowed to reopen in May after being closed under the stay-at-home order issued at the outset of the pandemic.
But after COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations soared, Ducey issued an executive order June 29 that again closed indoor gyms and fitness centers, bars, movie theaters, water parks and tubing.
Mountainside Fitness remained open and sought an injunction against the order, but Thomason ruled in favor of the government on July 7, saying the state “has the weight of the law on its side.”
Mountainside closed its 18 Arizona locations after that ruling.
Ducey’s executive order had no set end date but included a provision calling for it to be reconsidered for repeal or revision every two weeks starting July 27. He has extended the order once already, and the next review is due by Monday.
The closure order also mandated state officials to create requirements that gyms will have to follow when they get the green light to reopen. The first draft of the list was posted last month along with a form for gyms to submit to attest they are following orders to stay closed and will follow requirements to reopen when given clearance.
Tuesday’s ruling, however, says the attestation form doesn’t adequately give gyms a way to apply for reopening as set forth in the executive order.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has links to the requirements and form on top of its website.
“We wanted to make sure that they had an idea of what we were thinking so that they could be ready to go when the decision is made that they can reopen,” Christ told KTAR News 92.3 FM on July 24.
The first draft of the requirements, dated July 22, included a provision that gyms and fitness centers would be able to operate only at or below 50% of fire code capacity.
A revised draft, dated July 31, calls for occupancy to remain at or below 25% of capacity.
Arizona reported 1,008 new coronavirus cases and 66 more deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s documented totals to 180,505 COVID-19 infections and 3,845 fatalities.
The spread of coronavirus in Arizona has been slowing in the weeks after the implementation of face mask requirements in many areas — including all of Maricopa County — and the statewide executive orders to close certain businesses and restrict restaurant occupancy.
Those moves were made after the state became a global hot spot for the coronavirus, which has no impact on some people and is seriously debilitating or fatal for others. Infected people without symptoms – which include but are not limited to cough, fever and difficulty breathing — are capable of spreading the virus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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