Gyms begin reopening in Orange County after months-long closure

Gyms are among the businesses in Orange County that are allowed to reopen beginning Friday.
Gyms are among the businesses in Orange County that are allowed to reopen beginning Friday.

People flocked to Life Time Athletic in Laguna Niguel as the facility opened its doors at 4 a.m., with members excited to work out at a fitness center after the months-long closure.

"We are super pumped to be back in the gym, we've been waiting so long to get in here," said a man who identified himself as Nick. "Home workouts are great, but it's definitely a pleasure to be lifting the metal, baby. We're happy to be back in here lifting the weights."

He assured ABC report Marc Cota-Robles he was not paid to say that, adding that he wanted to be among the first people back in the gym when it reopened.

Fitness clubs are required to adhere to strict state guidelines and recommendations, including deep cleaning. The state strongly recommends that employees wear a face mask, along with members wearing face coverings when entering and leaving a facility and during their workout.

RELATED: Face masks no longer required in Orange County as more businesses like gyms get OK to reopen

Life Time Athletic in Laguna Niguel is using a hospital-grade disinfectant and implementing temperature screenings for employees.

"Our members, our community and our team members are so excited. I mean, this is gonna be the cleanest, healthiest, safest place to work out and live a healthy way of life," said Albert Ramos, Life Time general manager.

Nick said he felt safe while working out at the gym.

"Super safe, we've been here for years. The team is doing a great job cleaning everything," he said. "Everybody's wearing masks, so we feel super comfortable and it's good to be back."

San Juan Capistrano resident Mike Johnson said he couldn't wait to head to Life Time.

"I was excited to get back out and do some weight lifting. I tried keeping the weight off and doing some cardio. I didn't have weights at home. Excited to be back," he said.

Bars, movie theaters, community pools, schools, day camps, museums, galleries, zoos, aquariums, wineries and family entertainment centers have also received permission to reopen.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said, "We have reason to be positive about where we are'' in terms of coronavirus statistics when compared to neighboring counties and the state.

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"Because we took this pandemic seriously, we have continued to have low numbers of COVID-19 relative to our surrounding counties and regions,'' Steel said.

Steel said she has sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to allow the county to reopen some businesses in Phase 3 that include nail salons, youth sports and theme parks.

"Our businesses are hurting and they need to open immediately,'' Steel said.

Supervisor Andrew Do noted the county declared a state of emergency in February before there was even one confirmed case in Orange County.

Do said the county "remains best positioned of all the urban counties'' because "we've taken tremendous steps in protecting our workers and residents and identifying populations at risk to minimize the spread of COVID-19.''

However, "we still have to protect each other and take steps to try to prevent the surge of COVID-19,'' Do said, adding that if there is a spike in cases the county runs the risk of the state ordering businesses to close again.

"I still would encourage everyone to maintain social distancing when possible and when you feel you're in a where you can't maintain that social distance, wear a face covering, especially those who are at risk, the elderly, people with underlying health conditions and people who work in locations where there is a higher risk of infection,'' Do said.

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The Orange County Health Care Agency reported four more COVID-19 deaths Thursday, raising the total to 202, as Seal Beach officials revealed a nursing home outbreak that has claimed two lives and sickened dozens of residents and staffers.

The county on Thursday also reported 260 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 7,987. The number of people hospitalized dropped from 306 on Wednesday to 294, while the number of patients in intensive care dipped from 146 to 142.

The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 172,072, with 3,726 documented recoveries.

The county's rising death toll hits as the health care agency has been roiled by defections from its executive staff.

Dr. Clayton Chau, the HCA's director, was appointed as the county's chief health officer on Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors following the abrupt resignation of Dr. Nichole Quick, who faced intense pressure over her order requiring face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Quick, who had held the job since last June and had also been assuming some responsibilities of the director of public health services, resigned Monday night after drawing criticism from some residents and two members of the Board of Supervisors who had repeatedly grilled her publicly regarding her order to require face coverings as the county allowed some businesses to reopen.

Quick had been receiving heightened security due to threats stemming from her mask order. Protesters brought a poster with her photo bearing a Hitler mustache and swastikas to a Board of Supervisors meeting last month.

Chau modified the mask mandate on Thursday to make it a "strong recommendation'' instead. He said he changed it based on new state guidelines regarding face coverings, not because of push back from the community. He said the mask order should remain in place for another three weeks to see if there is an uptick that exceeds state standards as the county reopens businesses.

Chau said the rate of new cases and the ability to handle a surge of patients in the county's hospitals are the two key metrics he is tracking. He wants to remain below the state standard of 8% of positive cases per 100,000 population. The county's current rate is 4.6%.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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