Published in Economic Development
CKO Kickboxing has reopened its two Kent County gyms in violation of orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. CKO Kickboxing has reopened its two Kent County gyms in violation of orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. PHOTO BY: KATE CARLSON

Gyms reopen in clash with Whitmer orders, public health officials

BY Tuesday, July 07, 2020 10:30am

GRAND RAPIDS — Two kickboxing facilities in Kent County have reopened for members in violation of orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that gyms across most of the Lower Peninsula remain closed.

Shelby Reno recently reopened her two CKO Kickboxing facilities despite state-mandated gym closures because the alternative, she said, was closing the doors of her business for good.

“It’s very hard,” Reno said. “I’m a single mom myself and all I want to do is run my business safely just like many other gym owners. We have our hearts and souls poured into our businesses and life savings in our businesses.”

CKO Kickboxing gyms in Gaines Township and on Monroe Avenue in Grand Rapids were closed since March 16 per Whitmer’s executive order but reopened only for members on June 25, according to the gym’s Facebook page. Strict cleaning and social distancing guidelines are in place, and the indoor facilities are not open to the public, Reno said. 

Reno owns the only two CKO locations in the state. The company has 90 facilities across the country and several in Canada. Officials from the gym’s corporate offices did not respond to a request for comment. 

“We’re not like a regular gym where you go from station to station,” Reno said. “We’re still closed to the public, not accepting any drop-ins or trial packs — that is all completely shut down.”

Fielding complaints

However, the Kent County Health Department says the facilities should be closed based on Whitmer’s executive order, regardless of whether they’re public, private or have capacity constraints. 

Health experts have said the potential transmission of infection increases in enclosed spaces where people are exercising and exerting themselves. For gyms that are open in other states, they encourage strict adherence to social distancing and disinfecting equipment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking extra precautions when using indoor gyms, and seeking outdoor facilities or virtual class options as much as possible.

Multiple gyms in Southeast Michigan also recently reopened despite Whitmer’s orders, the Detroit Free Press reported last week. Though gyms have been allowed to reopen in 17 Northern Michigan counties and the Upper Peninsula, they are supposed to remain closed across the rest of the state. Michigan gyms’ legal status is also being disputed in federal court.

The Kent County Health Department has received complaints about gyms and fitness centers reopening last week, said department supervising sanitarian Brendan Earl. The complaints all related to fitness centers owned by the same company that operates seven locations in Kent County, Earl said. 

All of the locations found to be open and in violation voluntarily closed again when the health department contacted them, Earl said. He declined to disclose what gym the complaints involved.

“Generally, we try to educate and then have them voluntarily comply, and if they take that route we do not go through the citation process,” Earl said.

The Kent County Health Department enforces executive orders based on complaints, which usually come from the public and sometimes business competitors that are complying with the orders, Earl said. In addition to complaints, the health department also receives calls from business owners asking for guidance on how to follow the guidelines.

“Some of these businesses aren’t large and don’t have a human resources department to figure these things out,” Earl said. “We’re trying to work with the community to provide as much advice as possible.”

Legal limbo

As health officials maintain gyms should remain closed throughout much of the Lower Peninsula, the businesses have been in legal limbo in recent weeks. In mid-June, a federal district judge ruled that Michigan gyms could reopen on June 24, saying the Whitmer administration didn’t adequately justify their closure while other businesses could reopen. 

Hours before the deadline, though, a federal appeals court delayed the implementation while an appeal is considered, citing the risk of COVID-19. 

Reno is a native of Boise, Idaho, which never shut down gyms. She said she is considering moving her businesses back to her hometown. 

“I would rather be in a state where I can use my constitutional rights,” Reno said. “If (Whitmer) really wants businesses to fall apart because she is taking the hardest line possible, then she is just pushing people back to our home states.”

COVID-19 has hit Michigan much harder than Idaho. Michigan’s population is roughly five times the size of Idaho’s yet the state has had nearly 10 times as many cases. Michigan has also had significantly more COVID-19 deaths — 6,218 to 93 — creating higher per capita cases and deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Attorneys for the Whitmer administration have argued that she has the authority to issue executive orders protecting public health and that the content of the orders can’t be disputed in court.

Reno held about 20 outdoor fitness classes near her two locations starting June 1, which is currently allowed under the governor’s order as long as social distancing is followed. CKO was also selling punching bags during the shutdown so customers could follow online workouts from home. 

Despite the outdoor and virtual classes, Reno said her businesses made no profit in May after expenses at both studios exceeded $20,000, which is why she decided to reopen.

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