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New guidelines on gyms, fitness centers in Washington has owners and members frustrated

Sami Sweeney owns Pure Barre in Bellevue and started a petition to get the attention of lawmakers to address what she says are too strict guidelines on reopening.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Updated guidelines for fitness centers and gyms in our state take effect August 10, and some gym owners say they are too strict. 

Among the changes is a 300-square-foot amount of space per participant for any indoor fitness activities. While larger gyms may be able to manage that, smaller gyms and studios could be faced with hard decisions.

“I'm personally feeling, you know, really, really frustrated,” said Blair McHaney, CEO of the Washington Fitness Alliance (WFA).

The WFA has been working with Gov. Inslee’s office to come up with guidelines that would allow for people to be safe but for the gyms to still operate as a business.

As coronavirus cases began to increase, Gov. Inslee announced rollbacks that included limiting the number of people in a fitness center to five regardless of its size.

“What we did is we looked at the states that were performing the very best thing and mitigating COVID-19, and we looked at their guidance and it's generally 150 square feet per person to maintain 6 feet of social distancing,” McHaney said.

McHaney said his coalition couldn’t get Gov. Inslee’s office to go lower than 300 square feet. McHaney said while larger clubs may be able to mitigate that change, it will be devastating to smaller clubs.

“Our board is not here to advocate for big clubs, the WFA is here to advocate for fitness and indoor recreation. And we can't leave those guys out. We can't leave them out,” he said.

McHaney noted despite positive conversations with the governor’s office, the process felt rushed. He said they are working on drafting a letter that uses data to support their assertion that the guidelines are too restrictive.

“We just got new data today, tracking 24,000,000 member check-ins from clubs that have been reopened from all across the country, and less than .005% occurrence rate when you look at the number of check-ins and the number of cases that have been called in,” he said.

Sami Sweeney owns Pure Barre in Bellevue. She said they’ve been operating in a limited capacity since King County moved into Phase 2, but the new guidelines would be too much.

“We're gonna be down to two people per class and we can’t operate, we’d have to close down with just two people per class,” Sweeney said.

Her husband Brandon said he was planning to open a boxing gym in downtown Seattle before the pandemic hit, but the new guidelines would make it cost-prohibitive for him to do so.

“We don't know a single business in this industry. That would ever be able to live with the new guidelines,” he said.

Sami started a petition that has nearly 13,000 signatures, pleading with Gov. Inslee to hear them out on reopening guidelines. She said she would welcome any extra inspections to prove their cleanliness.

“I would love to have somebody come and see our operations and how we how just how overall clean, and spaced out it actually is,” Sweeney said.

Both Sami and Brandon remain optimistic things will work out.

“I think everyone sees the risk that all these studios are gonna fail here in the next month or so if we can’t change it,” she said.