SAN JOSE (KPIX) — Despite state and county orders that fitness studios and gyms must not operate indoors, KPIX discovered three gyms in San Jose defying the orders.
San Jose is in Santa Clara County, which landed on the state’s monitoring list two weeks ago because of a rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations. The state ordered the county to shut down, essentially closing hair and nail salons as well as gyms and fitness studios only 48 hours after the county gave those businesses a green light to open.
Santa Clara County remains on the list as cases and deaths rise.
KPIX discovered the doors open and clients exercising inside Westca Gym on N. 1st St., WarFitness Bay Area on S. First St. and WARCAT Strength on Bascom Ave.
“We see videos like that that people in the community will send us and, as soon as we get one, we send officers out or we send investigators out,” said Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Angela Alvarado.
Alvarado and her team oversee complaints about violators. The team consists of seven attorneys, four investigators as well as paralegals who sift through the complaints to determine if they are, in fact, violations of the health order.
As of last week, Alvardo said they’ve received about 10,000 complaints. But the team has only handed out 50 citations.
Alvardo explains that most of them were handed out in the beginning of the stay-at-home order. She said they soon realized it was more effective to educate business owners and citizens rather than give out citations.
“We shifted our focus from those initial citations to a blanket education model,” she said. “We wanted everyone in the community to feel like we’re shouldering this burden together.”
However, Alvardo and Santa Clara County executive officer Dr. Jeff Smith said that tougher enforcement may soon have to happen.
“I think the whole landscape could change, I think that we’re going to use every tool in our toolbox to emphasize that the protection and safety of our community is our first and foremost goal,” Alvardo said.
WARCAT Strength owner Arnel Lamigo said the order, however, is confusing.
He said he was paid a visit by a San Jose police officer recently who went into his facility after receiving a tip that he was open. The officer is seen on surveillance video peering behind the front desk toward the gym and giving an employee the OK to operate.
“If there’s somebody that comes by that’s supposed to be in a position of enforcing the rules, if it wasn’t against the rules then he probably would’ve told us,” Lamigo said.
“We are always going to err on the side of education but we are seeing businesses and communities and particular areas of our county where we’ve warned people several times,” said Alvardo. “We really can’t let some businesses continue to operate while others are suffering by shutting down.”
Alvarado said that violations could bring jail time as well as fines. She said it can also be classified as a violation of the Unfair Practices Act.
Despite the consequences, KPIX captured Lamigo’s clients working out at his gym. They wore masks and he said they were told to sanitize their equipment. His gym’s roll-up doors were also open. However, county leaders said that’s a violation because the operation remains indoors.
At WarFitness Bay Area, KPIX photographed the gym’s clients working out indoors without masks and failing to social distance. The gym was also observed holding classes outdoors, which is only allowed in the county if people are wearing masks and social distancing.
Dr. Smith watched the video we recorded at WarFitness Bay Area.
“Certainly they’re violating both orders,” Smith said. “The majority of people were not wearing masks, were not practicing social distancing.”
WarFItness Bay Area openly advertises its classes. The owner did not want to comment and denied he was operating.
Westca Gym, which is just steps from Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office in City Hall, was observed to have clients working out inside the facility with masks.
The owners refused to do an on-camera interview but they told KPIX over the phone that they’re struggling to make it.
“Certainly locally, here in the county, I think everybody realizes how challenging it is economically for small businesses,” Smith said. “The reality is if we actually obey the laws and do the social distancing we’ll be opening quicker than if we don’t.”
As of Monday, Santa Clara County reported 9,215 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 185 deaths.
Lamgio said, however, that he and his wife opened their gym together and, after being shut down for more than four months, they must somehow survive.
“We just hope that people can understand that we mean nothing malicious,” Lamigo said. “I think that in the hierarchy of the needs for me and my family, what I need to, it’s a risk that even though some may view as selfish or inconsiderate, you know, it’s something I feel like I need to do as a business owner and a small one at that.”
To file a complaint about a violator inside Santa Clara County you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org