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'It feels like a big slap in the face': Gym owners argue Oregon's new regulations aren't sustainable

In extreme risk counties, the state will allow up to six people to work out at a time inside in a building larger than 500 square feet.

PORTLAND, Ore. — For weeks, gym owners had been advocating the state to let them reopen for indoor workouts. For the last 10 months, gyms have been closed off and on.

On Tuesday, the state released new guidelines that would allow for indoor workouts and recreation to once again take place in counties under extreme risk guidelines.

"It's pretty anticlimactic and it honestly feels like a big slap in the face," said Landon Burningham, founder of Physiq Fitness says. "A lot of the gym owners I've spoken with feel the same way."

Burningham and other gym owners had been asking the state to allow a certain percentage of maximum occupancy. Burningham's largest of his four facilities is 33,000 square feet.

Instead, the state took a different approach. Starting Friday, in extreme risk counties, buildings with more than 500 square feet could have up to 6 people maximum inside working out. Buildings with less than 500 square feet could only have one person working out. One example is a personal training session.]

RELATED: ‘Extreme risk’ counties in Oregon can have limited indoor activities starting Friday, Gov. Brown says

The state's news release about the updated guidelines didn't mention how many staff members could be inside.

"Six people in 3,000 square feet is safe, but 7 people in 30,000 square feet is completely unsafe?" Burningham said of the state's guidelines. "That's where it really doesn't make any sense to any business owner. If there's 3,000 square feet and 6 people can fit in it and that's completely fine, then why cannot one more person fit in even 10 times the amount of space?"

Burningham understands the new regulations to read as one person for every 500 square feet of space, "What it is, up to 3,000 square feet you can have up to six people in it."

Yet other gym owners interpret it differently.

"I interpret it as we can have six clients as long as we are 500 square feet or above," said Danielle Massari, owner of StarCycle Portland on North Williams. "What I read was that staff doesn't count." 

"Six people is difficult," Massari said. "It's not ideal. It feels a little bit like a slap in the face from the governor. I don't know what she's trying to do with that number."

StarCycle's studio is 1,000 square feet and Massari said she can hold 14 bikes inside still spaced six feet apart. She said she'll wait to open for another week to make any new adjustments. For the month of February, she's selling seats for riders to sign up which will allow for the six people she's hoping the state will allow.

"If [Gov. Brown] is going to interpret something different, I'm going to have to refund everyone who's bought a pack for February and close," Massari said, although not permanently close.

KGW reached out to both the governor's office and the Oregon Health Authority and asked for clarification on which interpretation of the guidelines is correct.

A spokesperson replied with the following statement, "Our office is working with the Oregon Health Authority to finalize the associated guidance documents, which we will post to coronavirus.oregon.gov before these new guidelines take effect. The guidance will clarify the occupancy limits."

The statement also said reopening indoor workouts in extreme risk counties was being allowed because "Oregonians have largely complied with risk-level guidance—particularly where indoor activities have been prohibited—we have not seen a surge in hospitalizations that would have jeopardized hospital capacity. This is why we are making minor adjustments in order for businesses in extreme risk counties to reopen limited indoor activities and help maintain viability."

Burningham said with 6 people at a time, it will severely limit the amount of members they can allow inside. He said questions remain such as how long will they allow someone to work out.

"The logistics of it are very hard to deal with and hard to understand," he said.

Betsy Johnson, a Democratic state senator, said she welcomed the loosening of regulations for fitness clubs, outdoor dining and other establishments, but told KGW, "I am disappointed with the general lack of specifics that have left constituents in my district puzzled. I am concerned that the limit of six people is not an appropriate metric for all sizes of facilities."

The new regulations will take effect Friday and the state will reevaluate each county's status after two weeks.

RELATED: Most of Oregon still sits in 'Extreme Risk' category

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