Local gym has remained open despite executive order, visits from police

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 5, 2020

 Police have alerted Powerhouse Gym that it is in violation of the governor's executive orders.

Police have alerted Powerhouse Gym that it is in violation of the governor's executive orders.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

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Whether or not some businesses should be allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused sharp division among Michiganders.

Some are of the opinion that executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have unnecessarily infringed on the rights of business owners to earn a living, while others believe that certain types of businesses being open to the public can lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases and that those should be, at least temporarily, closed.

Executive Order 2020-110, after referencing some types of business that are permitted to be open, lists some that “will remain closed for the time being.”

Gyms are among the types of businesses not permitted to open.

While some gyms have adhered to the order, not all have accepted it.

Multiple Powerhouse Gym locations have opted to remain open, including the one on Haggerty Road in West Bloomfield.

On July 21, West Bloomfield police visited Powerhouse and requested that the gym cease and desist operations.

“We based our request to cease and desist on the Oakland County Health Department’s finding that this is a dangerous activity, having a fitness center open,” said Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan.

Kaplan said the township has been to Powerhouse a number of times. As for responses, he said, “Essentially, it’s, ‘thank you for your input.’”

For those who wonder why more hasn’t been done to enforce the order, Kaplan offered an explanation.

“The state says that the municipalities do not have enforcement powers,” he said. “It is a misdemeanor, even though it doesn’t carry a jail term. … It’s $500 maximum. We can’t arrest because we don’t have enforcement powers. Arrest powers would belong to the county and the Attorney General’s Office.”

The county is aware that some Powerhouse locations have remained open.

“We received notifications that 10 Powerhouse Gym locations in the county were open, and on Monday, July 13, our environmental health unit in our health division hand-delivered an emergency order notifying them that they’re in violation of the governor’s orders and that they should close,” said county spokesperson Bill Mullan.

Powerhouse gyms located in Birmingham and Milford did consent to close, according to Mullan, with one in Madison Heights also closing after the Madison Heights Police Department went to the location.

Mullan expected a follow-up letter to go out to the West Bloomfield Powerhouse July 27.

“We have copied the Attorney General’s Office on these letters,” Mullan said. “It’s my understanding that because Powerhouse Gym does have employees who are exposed, that these letters will be shared also with (the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and MIOSHA does have the ability to investigate further if they feel employees are at risk with them being open against the governor’s orders.”

After being contacted, a representative from MIOSHA wrote, “We're looking into this.”

Mullan said, “Ultimate enforcement rests with the state of Michigan.”

In an email response to an inquiry about Powerhouse, Ryan Jarvi, who is a press secretary for the Attorney General Dana Nessel, wrote, “Violations of the executive orders should continue to be reported to law enforcement overseeing the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense occurred. Those agencies are best suited to address these matters.”

Kaplan said the township averages three calls per week from residents inquiring about why Powerhouse is open.

“Now if you were to call Powerhouse Gym, and I don’t know the truth, they’re (going to) say, ‘We are very careful; we sanitize several times per day; everybody wears a mask; everybody’s more than six feet apart. They are as safe as if they were in a park,’” Kaplan said.  “I don’t know the reality.”

Powerhouse declined comment.

The Michigan Fitness Club Association, which “represents health clubs, boutiques, studios, fitness professionals, manufactures and suppliers throughout Michigan,” said in a press release that the group supports Whitmer’s efforts to stop the virus, but that fitness studios and gyms are not the problem and are in fact important for controlling some COVID risk factors, such as obesity and heart disease. 

“We absolutely support Governor Whitmer in doing our part to flatten the curve, but gyms are not spreading the virus,” said Alyssa Tushman, the vice chair of the association. “We are facing a physical and mental health crisis here in Michigan and exercise is essential in our efforts to combat this pandemic.”

Tushman noted that “physical activity has declined 48% since the pandemic began.” She said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield lamented that Americans have worse outcomes from the virus because of obesity relative to other nations. 

According to the association, its members are “committed to following re-opening guidelines to protect and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fitness operators, large and small, are prepared to meet or exceed strict safety standards directed by state and public health officials,” states the press release.

However, even with added protocols in place, Powerhouse is still in violation of the executive order.

Kaplan was asked if it has been frustrating to not be able to take more action.

“Yes, because we as a township have to abide by state laws, and when there’s a violation of state law, in this instance, we do not have enforcement powers,” he said.

Kaplan is not in favor of imposing fines or arresting Powerhouse patrons, saying, “I think the burden, the duty and the obligation rests with the business owner.”

Kaplan said he is not completely unsympathetic to Powerhouse’s predicament.

“You can understand from the perspective of a business, where they’re suffering,” he said. “They were closed; they lost revenue; people might have demanded refunds and they have employees they (want to) keep on the payroll.”

Kaplan said that from the township’s perspective, “We want our residents to be safe and healthy.”

“We encourage people not to engage in behavior that could be detrimental to their health, and if individuals are using a health club which should be closed, they need to exercise very safe hygiene — 6-foot distancing rule, wearing a mask and washing their hands,” Kaplan said.

Call Staff Writer Mark Vest at (586) 279-1112.

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