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Planet Fitness obtains 'essential business' classification, reopens ahead of other gyms

After obtaining certification as essential businesses, Planet Fitness franchises in Kern County have been allowed to open for indoor workouts, even as other gyms are restricted to outdoor activity only.

Kern County Public Health Services classified the local fitness centers as an “essential healthcare/public health service” after the gym chain joined the Medical Fitness Association, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that seeks to integrate medical practices into fitness facilities for better health outcomes.

“Our approach is we take anybody that comes in the door, whether you're an absolute elite athlete or a grandma,” said association President Bob Boone. “Our goal is to optimize your well-being no matter what state you might be in.”

Members of the association are encouraged to follow procedures that transform gyms into part of a community’s overall health care network. Although fitness centers do not need to have all of the association’s guidelines in place to join, Boone said the nonprofit's members hopefully will install a medical advisory board, track health outcomes of participants and potentially make referrals to primary care physicians.

He said association members must follow reopening guidelines developed over a three-month period in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that are designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We worked from March through July to develop these guidelines,” he said. “It’s based on enhanced distancing more than what you normally are hearing. It’s a higher standard than what any governor that I’ve seen has put out.”

He added that no cases of COVID-19 had been reported at member facilities across the country that have opened.

In an email to members, Planet Fitness said employees would undergo daily temperature checks and receive extensive training in sanitization policies. Gym members will be required to wear a mask inside and maintain physical distance.

“At Planet Fitness, we know one of the best ways to stay healthy is to stay active and access to an affordable, high-quality fitness experience is important to the Bakersfield community,” Planet Fitness spokeswoman Becky Zirlen said in an email. “In reopening our locations, we have taken a number of steps to protect the health and well-being of our staff and members, which include enhanced cleanliness and sanitization policies and procedures, physical distancing measures in our spacious and well-ventilated clubs, mask requirements, touchless check-in and more.”

California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the rules by which counties must abide to reopen businesses, says counties with a “widespread” coronavirus outbreak can only allow gyms to be open outdoors. Kern County falls into the state’s classification of a widespread outbreak, and thus, most gyms have not been able to open.

In the next lowest of the four tiers, “substantial,” gyms can only open indoors at a maximum of 10 percent capacity.

It is unclear if an attendance cap has been placed on local Planet Fitness locations.

For the moment, other gym owners throughout the county must watch and wait.

“Approval for all fitness facilities to reopen indoor operations will come from the state,” Kern County Public Health Services spokeswoman Michelle Corson said, “and the governor has not announced any time frames associated with lifting the current modifications in place at this time.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.