24 Hour Fitness COO touts COVID-19 protocols; asks California leaders to ease restrictions

24 Hour Fitness Chief Operating Officer Karl Sanft gave state and local officials a guided tour of the chain’s downtown Sacramento location Wednesday, highlighting the facility’s COVID-19 provisions while asking policymakers to consider easing capacity restrictions.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked questions of Sanft and his staff as they made their way through the 48,000-square-foot facility, which is next to Golden 1 Center in the Downtown Commons. City Council members Angelique Ashby and Eric Guerra, Assemblyman Jim Cooper and Danielle Stumpf from the California Department of Health and Human Services also participated in the tour.

“It’s more important than ever to take care of your physical health and your mental health,” Steinberg said. “I’ve said oftentimes over the past seven or eight months that COVID-19 is the pandemic, but mental health and mental illness might be the epidemic because this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for people.”

Sanft said 24 Hour Fitness is adapting after its industry and so many others were decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. He noted the company has closed more than 140 gyms since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is June, including the Carmichael location on Arden Way.

“The impact to the business has been tragic,” Sanft said. “… The impact on our team members and members alike has been nothing short of tragic.”

Sanft said protocols put in place at 24 Hour Fitness locations have been effective. He pointed to the fitness center’s touchless check-in system, social distancing measures and safety-first approach to reopening amid the pandemic. General manager Tony Cigliutti said staff and members undergo temperature checks and health screenings before entering the facility. Masks are required at all times and areas including the swimming pool, steam room and sauna are closed.

The downtown location is currently limited to a capacity of 102 members under red-tier restrictions, 10% of the building’s normal capacity. Sanft is asking state and local leaders to increase that number to 25%, saying the building is big enough to safely accommodate 250 members while maintaining proper social distancing.

“We believe that we can operate at higher levels of occupancy,” Sanft said. “Our request, candidly, is 25%” within the red tier.

24 Hour Fitness provided data showing nearly 9.5 million people have checked in at 24 Hour Fitness locations across the country since the pandemic began in March. From June 12 to Oct. 15, 44 employees and 38 members of 24 Hour Fitness tested positive for COVID-19, but none of those cases were contracted at 24 Hour Fitness facilities, the company said.

“What’s really interesting about the fitness industry is, unlike many other businesses, everybody checks in,” Sanft said. “So it’s really simple for us to not only know who was here, but know who was here at the same time.

“Contact tracing is very easy for us to do. Across the clubs that we operate in the 13 states where we do business, we have yet to have a COVID case be traced back to one of our clubs, so we feel fortunate about that and it’s another reason we believe that we’re a part of the answer, not a part of the problem.”

Exodus Rogers, a 33-year-old Sacramento resident, said he was happy to be back in the gym after months of outdoor workouts.

“I’m tired of being at the park,” he said. “This is fine. I’m OK with the mask and everything. It’s like a second home here so I’m glad it’s open. They’re very clean in here. They clean everything. You can’t even get water. You have to bring your own water. They require masks at all times and they really enforce it.”

Debra Frey said she was eager to return to the gym, too.

“I feel totally safe. I’m 66 and I’m more concerned with my health (when) not getting to the gym, so this was a godsend when they opened,” Frey said. “It gives me a psychological boost — endorphins — and just meeting with my trainer, we talk and he gives me tips on things like what to do as I’m getting older.”

Matthew Liubicich, a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, emphasized the physical and mental health benefits exercise provides.

“I can only imagine how many people have hypertension now or maybe are prediabetic from being sedentary for so long,” Liubicich said. “So anything we can do to keep health and wellness centers open, it’s going to help the population as a whole to fight off illness rather than dealing with stress and anxiety, which lowers your immune system. A compromised immune system leads you to be probably more susceptible to something like COVID and other diseases and illnesses as well.”

Stumpf declined to say what assessment she would offer to her colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services, but she said she appreciated the opportunity to visit the 24 Hour Fitness DoCo location.

“It’s very nice to be able to walk through and tour the facility to see the different protocols they have put in place,” Stumpf said. “It’s good to see this in person. You read it, you hear it, but it’s nice to walk through and see it in person.”


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