Gym owners sue Cooper over restrictions keeping them closed
Gym owners from across eastern North Carolina filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Roy Cooper, alleging that restrictions he put in place during the coronavirus pandemic keeping their businesses closed are unconstitutional.Posted — Updated
The plaintiffs want a judge to void the governor's latest pandemic-related executive order because it infringes on their right to earn a living as guaranteed by the state constitution. They also want the judge to declare a section of the state Emergency Management Act that Cooper has invoked as a basis for his orders unconstitutional.
municipalities and counties, and in this case to the governor," the lawsuit states.
Many gym owners say being kept closed is harmful, not helpful.
Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said they’re trying to prevent a spike in the number of cases, but gym owners say it's not fair to pick and choose which businesses can open.
Katherine Rice, who owns the Art of Motion Pilates in Southern Pines, said she mostly works one-on-one with clients. She compared her services to those offered at a hair salon, saying it doesn’t make sense that people can get their hair cut and colored for hours but not exercise, contributing to their overall health.
"We’re no different than any other business," Rice said. "We know how to socially distance. We’re smart people – we are people in the wellness business. So, why are we lumped as an irresponsible group of people that don’t know how to conduct a business?"
Hooten agreed, saying people need to work out to remain healthy during the pandemic.
"We have a lot of clients who are contacting us saying they are strained and stressed," he said. "We have treated people or helped people who had cancer. We had one client who has debilitating physical disease."
"I totally understand and feel for the local business owner, and we want them to get back on track as best as possible, but I think what we are trying to do is give really safe guidance on how to do that," said Dr. Amir Barzin of UNC Health. "If you think about just physically exerting yourself – heavy breathing, coughing, sweating – things that make us more likely to spread a contagion are more likely in an areas where you're physically exerting yourself such as a gym."
Rice said many of her clients are struggling with osteoporosis and other painful conditions during the pandemic.
"The biggest thing is to watch my clients deteriorate and knowing that it’s just devastating – it’s mental and physical," she said.
Rice could have argued her business is essential, providing Pilates therapy to people who need it for medical reasons, but Cooper said on May 8 that the state Department of Revenue had stopped accepting applications from businesses that wanted to be listed as essential.
Regardless of the outcome of the gym lawsuit, Smith and his wife said they plan to reopen Fit4Life next Monday. Other gym owners have already reopened, based on videos and statements posted on social media.
In addition to gyms, bars and indoor entertainment venues like movie theaters were left out of the revised Phase 2 plans.
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