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Judge: Michigan gyms can reopen Thursday despite Whitmer coronavirus order

June 24: Last-minute ruling keeps Michigan gyms closed, hours before they could reopen
June 22: Michigan gyms to open Thursday as judge won’t budge on Whitmer appeal

LANSING — Gyms and fitness centers across Michigan can reopen June 25, a federal judge ruled Friday, saying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration failed to provide scientific evidence justifying the continued closure despite declining COVID-19 case counts. 

Whitmer plans an immediate appeal, according to a spokesperson, who argued keeping gyms closed longer than most other businesses makes sense given their “heavy respiratory activity, shared indoor spaces, and shared surfaces.”

But U.S. Circuit Court Judge Paul Maloney, in his 17-page ruling, said state attorneys failed to prove that point in legal briefs or oral arguments, which were held Wednesday. 

“Counsel could not articulate a reason beyond the bare assertion that gyms are dangerous,” Malone wrote. “This Court fully recognizes that the bar is extremely low, but it is not that low. Defendants cannot rely on the categorization of gyms as ‘dangerous,’ without a single supporting fact, to uphold their continued closure.”

Maloney noted Whitmer has allowed many other types of businesses to reopen provided they adhere to new safety guidelines, including public facing companies like bars, restaurants and salons. Indoor gatherings of up to 50 people are also permitted, he pointed out, “so long as they are not inside a gym.”

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the governor “respectfully, but strongly, disagrees” with the ruling and will take the case to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“With this ruling, the court is playing a dangerous role it should not play: second-guessing and upending the data-informed decisions that have saved thousands of lives in Michigan,” she said. “The idea that gyms…might be one of the later businesses to come back online in the midst of this global pandemic is hardly surprising and highly sensible.”

Whitmer allowed gyms and fitness centers to reopen on June 10 in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan and has repeatedly stated she plans to relax rules in the rest of the state by July 4, provided the spread of coronavirus continues to slow. 

Maloney’s order, if upheld, would allow them to reopen June 25 instead. It prohibits the state from enforcing an executive order provision closing “indoor gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, sports facilities, exercise facilities, exercise studios, and the like.”

The League of Independent Fitness Facilities and Trainers sued Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon in June, arguing continued gyms closures violated their constitutional rights. 

Maloney has not ruled in the underlying case but issued an injunction against Whitmer’s closure order, saying plaintiffs “are threatened with insolvency” and showed “they are at risk of irreparable harm if this injunction does not issue.”

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