A Bucks County gym owner wrote on Facebook that he reopened this week in defiance of coronavirus pandemic restrictions after remaining closed since March.
The Newtown Athletic Club reopened Monday, the business announced- inviting half its members for the first day, based on their last names. The second half were invited back on Tuesday - and it appeared to be open Wednesday to all members, at no charge for this month.
Owner Jim Worthington, when reached by phone for comment Wednesday, declined to be interviewed.
"My only quote is these three words: exercise is medicine," he said before hanging up.
The gym is part of a large campus off Route 332 that includes pools, a bar and restaurant. Those portions of the campus have reopened in accordance with public health guidance - the restaurant, for example, reopened June 6, a day after the county moved to the yellow phase and outdoor dining was allowed.
Gyms and salons around the region have pushed to reopen as some business owners say time is ticking before they have to close their doors forever. An industry group Worthington is a part of, the PA Fitness Alliance, says owners need financial relief as soon as possible. And Atilis Gym in New Jersey drew national attention when it reopened in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy, only to be shut down again by the state health department.
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Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine have said that the timeline of reopening is in place to prevent outbreaks of the infectious virus. They mentioned more reopening news would come Friday, but it wasn't clear if that meant more counties moving to the "green" phase.
Wolf says some business owners, and particularly sports leagues, are on board with exercising caution. “I haven’t really come across many people say that I really don’t want to keep my patrons safe or my employees safe. There’s a real interest in trying to do this right,” Wolf said Wednesday.
A video posted on the club's page announcing the reopening plans showed workers tearing out walls and revamping the gym. And the gym will enforce capacity restrictions and not admit any members demonstrating symptoms.
"We worked with our state health officials educating them and advocating for why we are not only safe for our members but the importance of exercise to their immunity, physical and mental health," Worthington wrote on Facebook. "They listened, they acknowledged but they never responded back."
Besides the club's membership - which was described as a who's who of the suburbs when Philly Mag wrote about the club last year - Worthington himself has a high profile. In 2016, Donald Trump held a campaign rally at the club.
Along with Mariano Rivera, Johnny Damon and former Philadelphia Eagle Herschel Walker, Worthington serves on the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition - and is heading to the Republican National Convention as a delegate from Bucks County. And he is the former chair of the board of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, which lobbies for the fitness industry in Washington.
"I believe that my life's work of 42 years of keeping people healthy is essential and important enough that I must reopen at no cost to my members at this time," Worthington wrote on his personal Facebook page. "Principles and beliefs are what this Great Nation was founded on. It is now time for me to stand up for my own. God Bless America."