As Tulare County officials struggle to improve COVID infection numbers and move the area out of the Purple Tier so life can return to normal here, several gyms appear to be operating in open violation of state and county orders.
As late as Thursday, November 5, Fit Republic on Noble Avenue in Visalia was allowing indoor workouts, and city officials appear to be turning a blind eye. According to reports from several sources, more than a dozen gyms around the county are operating in violation of health orders.
Tulare County health officials are aware of the problem and working to solve it.
“We have a business liaison team that is fielding complaints for noncompliance,” said Tulare County Health and Human Services (TCHHS) spokeswoman Carrie Monteiro.
The TCHHS has received numerous complaints about businesses–including restaurants, gyms, massage parlors and salons–defying orders intended to prevent overwhelming local healthcare facilities and reduce the county’s infection rate. At present, Tulare County remains in the Purple Tier, indicating widespread coronavirus transmission. To move to the Red Tier, the infection rate must drop to less than seven new cases per day and positive tests have to drop below 8%.
As of Wednesday, November 4, Tulare County reports a 4.9% positivity rate, well below the 8% requirement; however, the county is still recording 10 new cases a day.
Open in Defiance
Those who work in the fitness industry are frustrated by the refusal of some fitness centers and instructors to comply with orders from health officials, and they report many gyms of all sizes remain open. A list of those not in compliance is in circulation, and some are even advertising on social media. When asked why Visalia’s Fit Republic remains open despite the closure order, the manager there declined to comment beyond confirming the location was open.
“I don’t think I’m able to say anything further than that,” the manager, who identified himself as Anthony, said before abruptly hanging up.
Fit Republic operates locations in Visalia, Tulare and Dinuba, all of which have been reported as open for business.
Those who wish to report businesses open in defiance of health orders should email the county at [email protected]. The same address can also be used by business operators looking for guidance to request information on reopening safely.
Enforcing the Law
When TCHHS is alerted to a violation of the closure order, the first step is a visit from county officials, the liaison team, which asks the businesses to voluntarily comply.
“The team does make contact,” Monteiro said. “We are finding the majority we contact are coming into compliance.”
When a business refuses to follow orders, the county will report them to state and local authorities for harsher compliance methods.
“We field it to the state and the local jurisdiction for enforcement,” Monteiro said. “We’re finding a lot of these gyms are within cities.”
While most businesses are willing to take the economic hit to prevent the spread of this fatal disease, allowing everyone to return to life as normal, some have refused. In those cases, the enforcement is left to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and, when businesses are located in one of the county’s cities, to local code enforcement.
“There are some gyms the city of Visalia is trying to address,” Monteiro said.
Early in the pandemic, Jason Salazar, Visalia’s police chief, said during a city council meeting his department would not close businesses in violation of health orders. It is not clear if that remains policy. At the same meeting, council members also briefly considered a resolution announcing the city’s intent not to enforce state health orders, however, at the advice of the city attorney, they did not proceed.
The Visalia Police Department did not respond to requests for information on its current role in enforcing the orders or its policy. The city’s Code Enforcement and Neighborhood Preservation Office was also unresponsive.
For more information about the county’s COVID numbers and how to combat the disease, visit https://covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov/.