ROCKINGHAM — Freedom Fitness, the gym located next to the Food Lion on East Broad Avenue, has reopened despite an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper temporarily prohibiting gyms and fitness centers from reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reached by phone, Rachel Watson, the manager of Freedom Fitness, declined to comment on the location’s opening. Freedom Fitness is one of the many businesses forced to close their doors for months in accordance with Cooper’s stay-at-home order, which, upon its implementation in late March, required all businesses deemed nonessential to close until further notice. Restrictions on business openings have gradually been lifted, but businesses such as gyms, bars and entertainment venues are still required to remain closed.
As of Thursday afternoon, both of the gym’s front doors were locked to the general public. But members were seen entering the gym by using a key card reader.
Asked if the Rockingham Police Department was considering charged the owners with a crime — as they did when Evolution Health Club opened early in late May — Lt. George Gillenwater said, “We will have to investigate the manner of the opening and determine what course of action we will take.”
Blake Altman, owner of Evolution Health Club in Rockingham, was charged with a misdemeanor in March after he prematurely opened his business. Despite multiple warnings from law enforcement, Altman went ahead with the opening in the interest of financial solubility.
“This isn’t me being rebellious, this is me trying to protect my livelihood and how I feed my children,” Altman told the Daily Journal at the time.
Executive Order No. 141, which was issued to ease restrictions as the state transitioned into Phase 2 of its economic reopening plan, includes a subsection that reads “… entertainment and fitness facilities that operate within a confined indoor or outdoor space and do not offer a retail or dining component are ordered to close.” Gyms, health clubs and fitness centers are among those facilities.
Some gym owners around the state have still managed to reopen for business by either finding loopholes in the executive order or accepting legal repercussions for disobeying the order.
A letter from N.C. Special Deputy Attorney General Phillip A. Rubin in June shed some light on possible loopholes in the executive order. Rubin addressed the letter to Chuck Kitchen of Kitchen and Turrentine, a law firm representing Jason Morgan, a Wilmington gym operator who filed a complaint against Cooper over his executive orders in May.
“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 reads in part.
Wilmingtonbiz.com reported that some Wilmington gyms, including Planet Fitness and several smaller fitness centers, reopened in accordance with Rubin’s commentary. Other reports show that gyms in several other North Carolina cities have made similar decisions, or have considered doing so.
Neel Madhavan contributed to this report.
Reach Brandon Tester at [email protected] or 910-817-2671. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.