Some gyms using medical exemption to reopen amid pandemic

Posted June 15, 2020 7:49 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2020 8:33 p.m. EDT

— Despite restrictions put in place by Gov. Roy Cooper that have kept gyms across North Carolina closed for nearly three months, some gyms have recently reopened legally.

The gyms are using a medical exception outlined in a June 5 letter from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

"The Governor interprets Executive Order No. 141 to allow the use of indoor gyms or fitness facilities when that use is prescribed by or directed by a medical professional," the letter states.

The executive order detailed which businesses could operate an under what conditions during the second of Cooper's three-phase plan to resume business and social activities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gyms were left out of the Phase 2 reopening plan, prompting some owners to challenge the restrictions in court. Others simply defied the order.

State lawmakers last week passed legislation that would allow gyms to reopen at half capacity, but Cooper hasn't acted yet on the measure.

Gyms aren't allowed to ask members for medical waivers or to talk about medical history because of the Americans with Disabilities Act and medical privacy laws. So, many are now opening their doors with a stipulation that people working out must have a doctor's note – but they can't ask to see it.

"This is clearly an exemption, and clearly some gyms will use it as a loophole," said Jack Wiggen, owner of the renamed Bull City Community Fitness.

Wiggen said he first saw the letter circulating around the fitness community a couple of weeks ago, and it caused him to pause.

"At first, we did nothing," he said.

Wiggen is a former attorney, and he said he wanted to learn more about it. The wording clearly opens the door for gyms to reopen, he said.

Bull City Community Fitness now allows members to work out indoors if they want to, but Wiggen said other rules, like those limiting indoor gathering sizes to 10 people, still apply.

"This gave gyms that were absolutely following the rules a way to continue following the rules with a small exemption," he said.

Gold's Gym locations in Clayton and Goldsboro opened Monday morning. The Clayton location had a note posted on the door citing the Attorney General's Office letter and stating how the gym would respect privacy laws.

The manager didn't want to be quoted but did say the gym is following the rules stated in the letter.

WRAL News reached out to the Governor's Office for clarification but didn't get a response.

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