SIERRA VISTA — Some Arizonans welcomed Governor Doug Ducey’s COVID-19 orders, which limits or closes certain businesses, while others think they are arbitrary and capricious.

With under two percent of the population being infected, many are questioning what toll these lockdowns have on our citizenry, schools, children and commerce.

The governor’s order shuts down indoor gyms, and Arizona law says violators can be charged.

In an April survey WalletHub ranked Arizona seventh in the country for states most affected by COVID-19. Most businesses have been affected by the coronavirus in some way — some positively, but most are hurting.

Seventy-three year-old retired obstetrician Ken Kacenga has been working out regularly for many years, and much of his exercise takes place in a gym.

Kacenga was an obstetrician for 45 years and has been retired for 6 years, and acknowledges the reality of the coronavirus and the risks. Kacenga also mentions that Cochise County has a much smaller population than Maricopa and Pima counties, which he says translates to a significantly lower infection rate.

“I do believe that wearing masks and so-called social distancing are reasonable things to do to help prevent the transfer of the virus,” Kacenga said. “I am a senior citizen and believe regular exercise to me is important to my personal good health.”

“I think this is true for just about anybody. As I get older, the exercise seems to be more important especially during these times,” he added. “I have better balance and better strength and feel healthy.”

Kacenga added that having gyms close is a detriment to a lot of people, no matter their age.

“I believe gyms can be open while practicing good social distancing and healthy prevention practices,” he said. “I think that closing down the country was totally unnecessary and inappropriate. I think that there are high risk groups in the country that need to be protected. But the average healthy person, including children, don’t need to stay home. In fact staying at home, especially if you have a large family, can be detrimental.”

Several gym owners gathered recently at Sierra Vista’s Summit Fitness to have an impromptu roundtable discussion and to voice their thoughts and concerns about the governor’s most recent indoor gym shutdown order.

The business’s who participated were Power Zone Gym from Douglas, Arizona Street Fitness from the Warren District of Bisbee, and Summit Fitness, Buena Health Fitness and CrossFit Huachuca, all from Sierra Vista.

Planet Fitness did not return a request for comment, while Cochise Health and Racquet Club and Jaguar Fitness declined to be interviewed.

These are the comments:

Sherry Littlefield, co-owner Arizona Street Fitness, Bisbee“The rules don’t seem to be the same for everyone. I know they sit and watch us, we haven’t closed. We only closed our indoor gym. They said close the inside, so we put it outside. They still sit and watch us. We still have somebody join our gym everyday. I’m in disbelief. They join because people want to work out! We have about 20 people come to work out outside everyday.

“It doesn’t make sense and the numbers they give you on these news channels, it just doesn’t make sense. The numbers of the deaths and the cases don’t add up to the hard science. The playing field has to be even for everyone. If the county or the police don’t want to enforce the orders, I actually don’t blame them. It’s very frustrating. It’s hard for me to watch people lose their businesses.

“Shawn and I have worked very hard putting this very small business together and have done very well. We are probably one of the smallest gyms you’ve ever seen. Our gyms are here for people’s health, their physical and mental well being. Going to the gym keeps me sane as well as physically fit. Yet we aren’t considered to be essential.”

Hank Diaz, owner Buena Health Fitness, Sierra Vista“I’ve been in business for 40 years and have seen a lot of ups and downs throughout the years. Being closed down really hurts us tremendously. I’m 86 years old and I’m sure I had the coronavirus in January. When I went in I had double pneumonia and my respiratory system was really bad along with hypertension.

“Because of the health that I am in, even though I also have atrial fibrillation, I was only in the hospital two days! The only way that happened is because exercise is good medicine, which has been the motto I’ve coined over the last 30 years. I’m living proof of that! What really bugs me is a lot is that the casinos are allowed to be open. That doesn’t make a doggone bit of sense at all, none whatsoever!

“The Bible says, ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

All of the attendees proclaimed a hearty “amen!” in agreement.

Mike Strange, owner Summit Fitness, Sierra Vista“Obviously it’s been tough, it’s been a two-month shutdown, (then another shutdown) so far another six weeks, possibly longer. Almost four months with no income and we still have expenses. We still gotta pay bills with no income. We’re ready to go when the governor says we can go. Wondering why all the gyms in Sierra Vista are closed and the gyms outside of Sierra Vista are not? I thought we were all working under the governors order. I don’t think we have a level playing field.”

Pete Wielebinski, owner CrossFit Huachuca, Sierra Vista

“We took extensive precautionary measures when we opened up the first time. We spent thousands of dollars on cleaning products and fans and limited class sizes. We had zero issues with anyone in our facility getting sick. Before the governor had that press conference I thought, ‘there’s no way that we’re getting closed down again. There’s too many things going on in the world right now. In terms of, hey I can go exercise my First Amendment rights at a political rally. Those were free and open to anybody who wanted to attend those protests. As long as that’s allowed to take place, I have a hard time believing they’re going to shut down a gym with 12 people inside of it.’”

“About 20 minutes later I was proven wrong. I told everyone that we were taking our indoor operation and moving it outside. Since then we’ve been outside about 7-8 classes a day. It had its issues, but it’s better than the alternative.

“It’s not just about health and fitness, there’s also a community aspect to it. People lost purpose, motivation when they were locked up in their house. When they were able to come out of their home and be a part of this environment it was better than being alone at home. So we were providing that element for people.

“I’m super disappointed that we’re not allowed to be open, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that our 4,000-square foot facility cannot be open with 12 people inside of it but I can go to a casino, I can go to a restaurant, grocery store, any big box store. I can go pretty much anywhere where people congregate and that’s legit. I can have 49 people at a private venue for a wedding or something…but not 12. That’s the hard part to wrap my head around. I don’t think Governor Ducey gave any forethought into boutique fitness centers and how we are different than the larger guy on the block.”

Shawn Stoeckel, co-owner Arizona Street Fitness, Bisbee“Governor Ducey’s executive order was to shut down indoor gyms. It didn’t specify outdoor. We’re open outdoor, we closed the indoor. We’ve lost quite a few members but we’ve signed other people up who are willing to work out in the 95 degree heat. By the grace of God, we have shaded areas. I personally think we are being singled out for whatever reason. The last go around it was bars, gyms, water parks and tubing, which is ludicrous.”

“Nobody goes to the gym if they’re not feeling well. You’re going to get the virus at Walmart, Target or these other places long before you get it at the gym. Gym’s are cleaner than heck. There’s always wipes to wipe the equipment. People who go to the gym are in good shape, they’re health conscious. I can understand shutting bars down. People who go to bars are sitting side-by-side, they’re not health conscious. They smoke, they drink and probably have a low immune system. I’m so frustrated by this, I don’t know what to say or do. It’s horrible what they’ve done, they just trample over our constitutional rights ...”

Leo Gutierrez, co-owner Power Zone Gym, Douglas“I agree with everything that has been said. Healthy people in a community are less likely to get sick. We can see lots of people taking advantage of the small amount of facilities outside to exercise. Any way they can exercise, because they need it and want to stay healthy. They don’t want to get this virus.”

“We’re doing things backwards right now. We should actually encourage our community to stay healthy and go exercise. To do this and fight it the right way. Basically eating healthy, not staying home and watching television eating chips and soda and gaining weight. We’re doing it backwards! It’s very frustrating for us to keep paying. We live in a very small border town community. We are affected because people are not able to cross over. We have a very fragile economy. A lot of people are not able to help out the economy by buying locally.”

“We still need to be paying our bills, we still need our livelihood. We are constantly receiving phone calls about, ‘when are you going to open, when are you going to open? I’m so desperate to work out.’ They say, ‘I’m going nuts, I’m running in circles in my house because I want to do something.’ They say, ‘I want to stay healthy, I don’t want to get this virus.’”

“For me it’s frustrating as a business owner, as a gym owner, not able to help because we don’t want to break the rules. I don’t think it is fair, we didn’t receive government help. Multi-million dollar businesses are receiving the help and are able to stay open. Meanwhile, the small businesses are shutting down. In this country, the backbone of our economy is the small businesses. We need to stay afloat, we need to stay together on this. Yes, the virus is a terrible thing, but we need to fight it in a smart way. We need to stay open, we need to offer this avenue to our communities.”

Tony Rivera, manager Summit Fitness, Sierra Vista“We have a regular schedule and guidelines all around the building. If you feel safe going to a grocery or hardware store, we take care of cleaning the gym and have a regular cleaning schedule with guidelines posted all around the building. We limit the capacity for spacing. Don’t feel afraid, I believe fear drives most people at this time especially through social media. Safety precautions are our top priority and at the same time it’s about boosting your immune system. You can be prepared to fight not only this virus but any other particular virus or bacteria or illness.”

After the meetingAfter venting their frustrations, the overall atmosphere had these healthy strong business owners still feeling frustrated and powerless.

Gutierrez ended the meeting with these thoughts: “Life is a risk. Every time we get out of bed, it’s a risk. There is a thousand things out there that could kill us just as much as the coronavirus. If I need to live my life in fear hidden under my bed, it’s not worth living.”

“If it is my time to go, it’s my time to go. I believe the people have the choice. Let them come, let them do it. Let them have a choice. We’re not forcing anybody to go to the gym. Same way no one is forcing them to go to the casinos or to go buy groceries. They do it because, life goes on. That’s the reality of all this.”

“Let them choose, let us open. A lot of people will take that minimal risk. Every time we grab the keys to the car and get on the road, there is a risk of dying. What are we going to do, stop driving? We going to close all the highways and freeways because ten times more people are dying? We cannot do that, life goes on.”

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