PHOENIX (AP) — For the third straight day, two dozen health clubs in metro Phoenix were defying Gov. Doug Ducey's order Thursday to close gyms, raising questions about whether officials who have been criticized for responding indecisively to the pandemic will be effective in shutting down the clubs.
Earlier this week, the Republican governor ordered a 30-day shutdown of gyms, bars, water park and tubing businesses as Arizona faces a huge spike of coronavirus cases, saying, "We can't be under any illusion that this virus is going to go away on its own."
The operators of two health club chains that have refused to close, Mountainside Fitness and Life Time, say they have made changes to protect against the virus and that there's no evidence of any outbreaks at the state's gyms. They say Ducey is singling out their industry while other businesses that do a poor job at social distancing are allowed to remain open.
"You can't go to the health club, but you can walk down the street to the casinos?" asked Mountainside Fitness chief executive Tom Hatten, who has filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the order.
Police have issued misdemeanor citations for disobeying the governor's order to two Mountainside locations, and state regulators have suspended liquor licenses at cafes and bistros operated at two Life Time clubs. Still, both chains are keeping their doors open in Arizona.
Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak vowed other enforcement actions will be taken against violators. "This is a public health issue, particularly among our younger demographic, and we are looking for cooperation and compliance from our business community in the name of public health. We know this is a sacrifice," Ptak said.
A second lawsuit seeking to overturn the governor's order was filed by Xponential Fitness, which operates about 50 fitness businesses in Arizona and maintains the governor's order was unconstitutional.
Across the state, 3,333 additional cases and 37 deaths related to COVID-19 were reported as of Thursday, totaling more than 87,000 cases and 1,757 deaths since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, hospital capacity remains at 89%.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
While public health officials say it's often difficult to use socially distance and use masks at gyms, Mountainside and Life Time say they are taking all steps to protect against the virus.
Staffers and club members were wearing masks and practicing social distancing Thursday at a Life Time club in Phoenix. Staff members, including a salesman wearing a sports coat, cleaned equipment as club members lifted free weights and ran on treadmills.
A Mountainside Fitness club in north Phoenix offered no-touch hand-sanitizer dispensers, posted signs asking people to wear masks and shut down every other exercise machine to allow for social distancing. Staff members wore masks and regularly cleaned equipment, though some club members weren't wearing masks.
The fitness businesses that remained open in metro Phoenix on Thursday were 18 Mountainside locations, five Life Time clubs and at least Orange Theory gym. Police said they also had cited another fitness business, Independence Gym in Scottsdale, for remaining open.
Customers also were exercising in the parking lots outside other Phoenix gyms. Ducey's ban applies to only indoor gyms.
Bahram Akradi, chief executive of Life Time, said he wasn't looking to get into a dispute with Ducey or make the government's prevention efforts more difficult.
Akdradi predicted people will see at the end of the pandemic that the virus was spread through many types of businesses, such as supermarkets and home improvement stores.
He recalled the difficulty of sending home 1,500 of his Arizona employees for more than two months once the shutdown took effect. "I don't have it in me to turn my people away again," Akradi said. "I can't. It's tough. I don't want to go against the governor's order. I want to work with him. I really do."