Courthouse Club Fitness in west Salem. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

A Salem gym has received Oregon’s largest Covid-related citation to date after its owner refused to close its doors as required by state orders.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a $126,749 citation to Courthouse Club Fitness on Jan. 8 for keeping its location at 6250 Commercial St S.E. open in defiance of pandemic requirements. That follows a $90,000 fine Courthouse received in November for keeping four of its five gyms open. Courthouse is appealing the fine.  

The workplace safety agency said in a statement the most recent fine was issued following multiple complaints and an inspection on Dec. 9 that found the gym put employees at risk by staying open.

“I repeat my pledge to support any reasonable request to help in the fight against Covid,” John Miller, Courthouse’s president, said in an email. “Voluntarily bankrupting a business my members depend on for their health, and 300 employees depend on for a living, is not reasonable.”  

According to a document provided by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inspectors found customers using the gym’s equipment, the sports court and spa while instructors led training and swimming lessons. The document notes that employees and customers were wearing masks and social distancing. Employees were also sanitizing the facility, the document states.

“We understand that this employer is attempting to do a number of things to keep employees safe without shutting down, but that does not allow them to substitute their judgment for that of the public health authorities,” said Michael Wood, the administrator of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a statement.

At least 10 employees were put in unsafe working conditions and one instructor led an exercise class with 50 participants, according to documents. During the inspection, Miller said he received multiple comments from members who told him how “vital going to the gym was for their health and their health had deteriorated when the gym was closed for two months during the first closures.”

In a statement to Salem Reporter, Miller said no Covid transmissions have been traced to any of his gyms. He said that after an employee contracted Covid after visiting family, Courthouse swiftly asked the employee to quarantine. 

Courthouse also sent several employees home, with pay, until they tested negative, he said. The gym’s response was later praised by a county health worker, according to Miller. 

Miller pointed out that gyms remain open in most states and a University of Oregon study found that fitness clubs are safe. He also said that cases have been traced back to retailers, which he said remain open and “jammed with people huffing and puffing through the isles.”

“Most members tell us their doctor has prescribed regular exercise for them; to improve their general health or to treat a specific ailment,” he said. “Most doctors agree with us, exercise is medicine.”

The statement did not say if Miller would appeal. 

In response to rising Covid transmission, Gov. Kate Brown in November enacted a new pandemic order that restricted bars and restaurants to take-out only and closed theaters and gyms.

That order will remain in effect in Marion and Polk counties so long as they continue to record high rates of new Covid cases. Marion County most recently reported nearly 600 new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, according to Oregon Health Authority – three times the level required to loosen restrictions.

Following the order, Miller issued a statement indicating his company wouldn’t survive another shutdown and would be staying open. Later in November, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded by issuing citations to Courthouse, which it’s appealing. 

In his statement to Salem Reporter, Miller said his only “reasonable course of action” is to remain safe and open. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or jake@salemreporter.com or @jakethomas2009.

WE GET SALEM THE FACTS. Covering your community with care and depth. Salem Reporter - fair, accurate, independent. Subscribe and support our essential local service.