SFPD gyms stayed open during pandemic. Why are private ones still closed?

San Francisco police officers and other city employees have been able to use a dozen gyms during the pandemic, mostly inside police stations, despite the fact that private gyms have been closed to the public for the past several months.

a group of people walking in front of a building: Protesters chant outside the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. The gym inside is open to city employees desperate a health order that doesn’t allow private gyms to open.

© Mason Trinca /

Protesters chant outside the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. The gym inside is open to city employees desperate a health order that doesn’t allow private gyms to open.

The Department of Public Health said Thursday that it “does not support” the police department’s use of indoor gyms, but health officials can’t put a stop to it because San Francisco’s health order allows departments to decide what is an “essential function.”

This story was first reported by Mission Local.

Michael Andraychak, a spokesman for the police department, said in a statement that it is essential for the department’s gyms to be open because “SFPD personnel, as a condition of their employment, are required to maintain their physical fitness.”

“The Department requires sworn members perform and pass a physical fitness exam every six months (twice annually),” he said. “Because of these requirements and the periodic testing, the SFPD has private gym facilities at all locations throughout the city of San Francisco and they continue to operate in consultation with our Health partners.”

The fact that the city has allowed any indoor gym to open has rankled private gym owners, who say it is an unfair double standard.

“The hypocrisy is pretty evident,” said David Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness in the Castro Neighborhood and a representative of the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, a group of about 100 small fitness businesses in the city.

Karraker said the coalition was formed in May “when we realized that the city didn’t have any plans or guidelines for reopening fitness, and we needed a voice with city officials.” The members have been lobbying the city to let their gyms re-open.

Many private gyms in the city are “small businesses. And they all struggling and dying,” Karraker said.

Such is the latest coronavirus-related frustration experienced by San Francisco business owners, who have complained that some of the city’s shifting health orders are arbitrary and confusing. It also comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was criticized for getting her hair done inside a salon earlier this week, despite city rules that prohibit indoor hair appointments.

Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to open outside Sept. 9. Indoor gyms are poised to open at the end of the month, although they will be limited to one-on-one or individual sessions.

City employees can access the San Francisco Police Department’s 12 gyms around the city for an annual membership fee. Andraychak initially said the gyms in “SFPD facilities are for SFPD personnel” and he is “not aware of anyone other than SFPD personnel using the gyms.”

However, photographs obtained by The Chronicle show signs posted at the entrance of the gym at the Hall of Justice — which re-opened July 1 — suggest that anyone who works in the building may buy a membership.

When pressed further on who uses the gyms, Andraychak said since the Hall of Justice is a shared building, the sheriff’s office, district attorney, probation department, courts and public defenders may be able to join the gym as members.

The police department closed its gyms in early April, and reopened them several weeks later after reviewing “safety and cleaning protocols as well as occupancy limits,” Andraychak said. Members must wear masks, practice social distancing and clean equipment before and after use. Gyms are frequently cleaned by custodial staff. It is unclear how many people are allowed into the gyms at once.

Meanwhile, gym owners like Karraker are praying that they will be allowed to open indoors — albeit at a very limited capacity — by the end of the month.

But, he said, if city-run gyms have been able to open and operate, then it should be a good indicator that private gyms can open sooner with the proper safety measures.

“It is an incredible double standard,” he said.

Trisha Thadani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @TrishaThadani

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