SLO County’s Kennedy Club Fitness calls for gyms to reopen

Kennedy Club Fitness has had to lay off, terminate or furlough “hundreds of employees” across San Luis Obispo County amid the ongoing COVID-19 business restrictions, leaving the gym in dire straits.

Now, the local chain is hoping to generate community support and return to the state’s original guidelines for fitness facilities since coronavirus arrived.

The health and fitness company — which has four SLO County locations, in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Atascadero and Arroyo Grande — said it has suffered sharp business impacts that could affect more jobs in the near future, as well as the services it provides its customers.

“We need your support and understanding, especially in the next 30-60 days, as we move forward out of the current situation we are in,” said Brett Weaver, Kennedy Club’s managing partner, in a letter submitted to The Tribune. “If we don’t get back to operating business under the state’s original guidelines very soon, many of us could be forced into extinction.”

Weaver, who said the gym employs 350 people countywide, described the overall havoc the coronavirus impact has had on the business, which currently only offers access to outside strength and cardio equipment, group exercises and outdoor pools.

Weaver said in an email that a return to the state’s guidelines allowing for full services, including indoor use, will be “critical” to the business over the next few months.

“In order to continue providing our services to the community and keep our staff employed the next 30 to 60 days, it is critical to return to the states original guidelines,” Weaver said.

Community response to Kennedy gym use

Weaver said since early March, he has responded to “phone calls and emails from the community, telling me that I’m going to be held accountable for spreading COVID-19 if Kennedy Club Fitness remains open.”

“I have been told if cases are traced back to us, I could be sued,” he wrote. “Days before the mandatory shutdown in March, members who remained at the club were confiding in me the fact that their friends and family were shaming them for coming in to work out.”

Weaver said his response has been that the gym is providing health and fitness opportunities to the community, while contributing to help boost immune systems.

“I expressed to them the benefits of fitness especially the role it plays in helping to boost the immune system,” Weaver said. “The health and fitness industry should have been deemed essential from the beginning, along with every other health professional. Instead, we were listed as high-risk and non-essential.”

Members of the Templeton swim team practice at the Atascadero Kennedy Club Fitness pool in 2014. Kennedy Club Fitness is asking for community support and a full reopening of its facilities countywide. [email protected]

On July 13, about a month after gyms were allowed to reopen fully in mid-June, Gov. Gavin Newsom reimposed restrictions on fitness facilities, limiting them to outdoor activities only.

The move came amid a spike in COVID-19 cases statewide that landed several counties, San Luis Obispo included, on the governor’s watch list for exceeding the standard of no more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days.

Since that time, conditions have only gotten worse in SLO County. Over the last two weeks, officials have confirmed a rolling total of more than 200 cases per 100,000 in SLO County, according to state date reported by Los Angeles Times.

Nevertheless, Weaver believes gyms can operate safely even with that challenge.

“The virus threat is real, and we have spent months preparing for it by following the state’s guidelines for reopening, along with many other businesses,” Weaver said.

The case for reopening

Weaver said the Kennedy facilities are “clean, modern and have strict sanitation policies” and that he believes indoor use is manageable.

“The perception is that everyone in our facilities are breathing, sweating and spitting on each other,” Weaver said. “If you have ever been a member at any fitness facility, you know this perception is incorrect. What you find here are hard-working, caring individuals who make themselves available to help you however they can.”

Elyse Peterson trains at the Kennedy Club Fitness pool in preparation for the SLO Triathlon in July 2006. Joe Johnston The Tribune

While Kennedy has followed guidelines, another gym in SLO, Club 24, was cited by the city Monday with a $1,000 fine for violating the order regarding indoor use.

Another gym in SLO County, Los Osos Fitness, announced its permanent closure in May after 25 years.

Weaver said “the impact on the community is not only measured in loss of business or jobs, but in the contributions of businesses make to our community.

“Annually, Kennedy Club Fitness is involved in many charitable causes,” he said. “We support Family Care Network, the Salvation Army, the Food Bank, Cuesta Athletics, and Jack’s Helping Hand, just to name a few.”

“Like us, many businesses have lost thousands of dollars, and hundreds of members or customers who are experiencing both fear of coming in, and financial hardship,” he added.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.

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