Left out of phase two, health clubs band together to confront governor

Group has retained counsel, may file suit next week

fitness gym health club

RALEIGH — After Gov. Roy Cooper announced that Friday afternoon would signal the start of phase two, he laid out details that certain businesses, such as restaurants, hair salons and tattoo shops, would be allowed to partially reopen.

Downplayed by the governor was the long list of businesses that were not being allowed to open back up – among them, gyms health clubs and fitness facilities. Now those businesses appear to be banding together.

Overnight, “Reopen NC’s Health Clubs” Facebook page has formed with the purpose of filing a class action suit against the governor for keeping gyms and such facilities closed. The group has already garnered over 4,000 members, including over 160 gym owners.

“We’re asking health club and fitness facility owners to join us in a legal battle to reopen our businesses here in NC. Please invite all your like-minded club owners to join our campaign. More details to follow,” the page description reads.

The Reopen NC’s Health Clubs page appears to currently be administered by multiple individuals including Jason Morgan, owner of MuscleWorx in Wilmington; Kinston area gym owner Edward Smith, Jr.; Garret Marek, a Managing Partner at Fit4Life in Charlotte and Todd Dini of Swansboro Health & Fitness, Inc.

North State Journal reached out to several of the administrators for comment and was contacted by Robin Smith, who owns and operates several fitness facilities with her husband, Edward. The couple are from Newport, near Moorehead City.

“We have a lot of angry, very frustrated and very motivated gym owners,” said Smith.

The group has retained legal representation at the firm of Kitchen and Turrentine in Raleigh, which is the same firm that was representing Hair is Essential, a group of salon owners who were poised to sue the governor for being kept closed. Smith says that they are looking to file a temporary restraining order next week and that they have already surpassed their GoFundMe goal of $15,000 to pay for legal fees.

Many gyms and fitness facilities had ready with safety measures in place, assuming they would be included in Cooper’s Phase Two. Several owners have called it a “gut punch” to be left out for not a few weeks, but five more as the order doesn’t end until June 26.

Gym owners and supporters in the group overwhelmingly want to know why they are not being granted the same opportunity to comply with capacity measures and CDC guidelines like other small businesses are.

When asked if the gyms had safety measures in place, Smith said that “For a lot of us, this is stuff we already do regularly,” and that staff had already been wiping down machines and equipment.

“Going to the gym, you’re probably going to be safer than going to the grocery store,” said Smith.

At this point, Reopen NC’s Health Clubs is not affiliated with the overall Reopen NC movement, but the purpose is the same: reopening businesses and getting people back to work.

Included in the photos posted to the Reopen NC Health Clubs page is a flier from Gold’s Gym of Lake Norman, which calls on all members to call the governor’s office to be heard about phase two keeping gyms closed.

“North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper has taken the unprecedented step in not allowing health facilities to re-open in Phase II.”

The flier also says that “Our state has failed to promote and ensure that its citizens are able to maintain physical, mental and emotional good health by allowing Governor Cooper to have untethered power over our state.”

In addition to organizing to sue the governor, those joining the page are working towards a single, unified opening day and time as an act of civil disobedience.

“We won’t stand for this closure to be dragged out at our expense, so let’s stand together on opening up our businesses,” group member Kristen Ost wrote alongside a poll for staging a unified reopening.

Also in the executive order, a provision was carved out to allow collegiate and professional athletes to train in indoor fitness facilities that would otherwise remain closed, provided that they do not exceed the indoor mass gatherings limits.

A Change.org petition to lobby Cooper to allow gyms to open has also been started with nearly 2,000 signatures since it went up 14 hours ago.

According to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service’s newly revamped COVID-19 Dashboard, there are 20,122 confirmed cases out of 277,603 tests completed and 554 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

As of May 21, there have been a total of 702 deaths, which is approximately .0066% of the state’s 10.49 million residents. Of those 702 deaths, 430 were in congregate living situations such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Currently, 97% of all deaths in North Carolina have been in the age range of 50 and older. Those ages 65 and older make up 85% of the deaths, with an additional 12% in the age range of 50 to 64.

This story is still developing and will be updated.

About A.P. Dillon 1287 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_