Indoor workouts such as this one have been forbidden for months in San Francisco — but gym facilities in police stations and other government buildings have remained open. Photo by Laura Waxmann, 2015 Pie de foto: Durante meses, en San Francisco han estado prohibidos los entrenamientos en interiores como éste, pero los gimnasios de las estaciones de policía y de otros edificios del gobierno han permanecido abiertos. Foto de Laura Waxmann, 2015.

Update, Sept. 10

Health Order anticipated for week of Sept. 14 “to allow for limited indoor use of gyms and fitness centers”

Dr. Tomás Aragón yesterday penned a letter to all city department heads mandating the closure of all city gyms — “effective immediately.” 

“The same health and safety concerns that have compelled me to temporarily close indoor gyms … apply to the operation of indoor City gyms.”

Aragón cited “recent reports” which “suggest that some City departments continue to allow indoor gyms or fitness centers to operate.”

Mission Local broke this story on Sept. 2 (see below).

Writing on behalf of the San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, Dave Karraker stated “This isn’t a win for anyone in San Francisco. The City has demonstrated that indoor fitness is safe based on the data derived from safely running six months of indoor gym operations. Dr. Aragón closing them now further demonstrates the Department of Public Health’s inability to use the data they have on hand, in addition to what they have from the State and CDC, to reopen fitness indoors safely.”

Aragón stated that he anticipated issuing an order in the week of Sept. 14 “to allow for limited indoor use of gyms and fitness centers.”  

2020.09.09 FINAL Letter Fro… by Joe Eskenazi

Original story, Sept. 2:

Indoor gyms in San Francisco police stations, other government buildings, remain open during Shelter-in-Place order

Gyms serving San Francisco city workers in police stations and other government buildings have remained open throughout the months-long shelter-in-place health order, even while private gyms have been shuttered and their proprietors teeter on the brink of fiscal ruin. 

Written records provided to Mission Local by the San Francisco Police Department reveal that the workout facility in the Public Safety building at 1245 Third St. serviced 468 gym-users in the month of May alone (as few as two individuals used the gym on some days, and as many as 29 on others; the tally of 468 all but certainly includes repeat users).

Gyms are also open in the Hall of Justice and Medical Examiner’s office — as well as smaller, more informal gyms or weight rooms at police stations and firehouses throughout the city. 

A gym at the Public Works corporation yard was closed — but, Mission Local is told, this was not so much due to COVID-19 concerns as the fact it was repurposed into a storage facility. 

Sworn SFPD personnel, as a condition of their employment, are required to maintain their physical fitness. This physical fitness requirement is also a mandate of the State of California for all Peace Officers,” reads a statement from the department. 

The names of off-duty workers using the Third Street police gym were redacted from our public records request. It is not yet clear if names belonging to gym-using city employees working for departments other than the SFPD must also be redacted. 

“The Department requires sworn members perform and pass a physical fitness exam every six months (twice annually),” continues the SFPD statement. “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.”

Rules for use of San Francisco Police Department gyms during pandemic times.

At a press conference last Friday, however, Health Department Director Dr. Grant Colfax did not seem aware of city workers’ ongoing gym use. 

“There are allowances in the Health Order for government services to deem what is essential, so there is at least a theoretical possibility that gyms could be open,” he said regarding a question about gyms for city workers continuing to operate in city facilities. “Certainly, this goes against public health advice. I certainly wouldn’t recommend people working out inside, at least in close quarters, at this time.” 

At the Third Street police gym, no more than seven people are allowed in the room at one time, masks are mandatory at all times, and individuals are required to wipe down the machines both before and after use. Workouts of more than 45 minutes are discouraged, and heavy cardiovascular activity is recommended to be done outdoors.

Dave Karraker is the co-owner of MX3 Fitness in the Castro Neighborhood. He’s also a representative of the nascent San Francisco Independent Fitness Studio Coalition, a consortium of around 70 such studios, representing almost 700 employees. 

He did not question the health and cleanliness standards police are using in their gym, but he did question why private gym owners aren’t permitted to do the same. Even when private gyms are, on Sept. 9, tentatively allowed to open out-of-doors, Karraker says they’ll be held to tighter standards than what the police are doing now, indoors. 

“If the city has established that there is a way for residents of San Francisco to be able to work out indoors safely, no matter who they are, that standard should be allowed for every person in the city,” Karraker says. “This is just an incredible double-standard.” 

Karraker added that the city has not seemed to grasp that gyms are not monolithic, with not all of them being run on the 24-Hour Fitness model. Far from being a vast, unsupervised warehouse where people wander about and touch things at their whim, he says many smaller outfits, such as his own, could make ends meet by seeing one to three clients an hour in a tightly controlled setting. 

He did not understand why small, even individually focused gyms remain a restricted business while physical therapists are not. During an Aug. 10 meeting of the city’s Small Business Commission, Dr. Tomás Aragón, the city’s health officer, seemed to agree. 

“I am not an expert in all the various ways people run businesses. I just wanna know ventilation, physical distancing, face-masking, the core principles people can apply across businesses,” said Aragón. “I can’t give you a rational reason why a physical therapist can do this and somebody who does personal services who I know can mitigate risk can’t.” 

While the concept of “essential businesses” made sense during a total shutdown, Aragón said it led to the city “picking winners and losers” during re-opening. He hoped to move toward assessing “risk, behavior, setting, and activity” rather than “picking one industry over another. It is hard to defend and ended up being harmful.” 

Like salon owners, gym owners say that the city’s offer to let them operate out-of-doors — in smoky air and on the cusp of the rainy season — is a hollow gesture. Karraker says the number of city gyms with a sizable parking lot with an established fence that could be converted into an outdoor workout area could be counted on one hand — or even one finger. 

As their plight grows more dire, the city’s small-business owners have grown more agitated and resentful regarding restrictions they deem as arbitrary. Notably, footage of Rep. Nancy Pelosi receiving a haircut at a closed San Francisco salon was broadcast far and wide this week, leading to full-throated cries of hypocrisy. The Speaker of the House, for her part, has claimed she was misinformed, and did not know she was violating the city’s health order

For his part, Karraker says he feels the cops’ ongoing indoor gym usage has, inadvertently, made his case for him. 

If these SFPD fitness centers have been open the entire time, then they are the perfect case studies to prove that indoor fitness is safe,” he says. “If none of them closed because of a covid outbreak, that suggests that other gyms could operate indoors with the exact same protocols and be safe.”

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Investigative reporting on an issue that is of interest to many. Excellent follow up article Joe. Facts matter and so does reporting them as such. The case has clearly been made. What case? The evidence that gyms can in fact be in operation in a safe manner. If it wasn’t for this article and it’s follow up I doubt the expedited response by those “ in charge “ would have occurred to open them up.

  2. Time to let gyms open! With the precautions we all know how to follow now. Come on!! Everyone defending the cop and other government gyms being open aren’t getting the point! Everyone is psyched to find this out – that they are working out because it proves that private gyms have been needlessly shuttered for too long! But guess what, we are pissed off too!! Sick of the double standard! If you make a rule, it needs to be applied to yourself as well!! Enough is enough. Because government workers had more “clout or access or privilege or whatever” to explain to the powers that be why they needed the gym open. And us city folk get the No! No one is saying the government workers shouldn’t work out! Just keep the rules equal! It is the idea that so many private businesses have been bankrupted by these shutdowns and the gym owners know they can safely operate their businesses. Like the government gyms have been doing for 2 months!
    Also, Police and Fire fighters aren’t the only ones who need to be healthy and strong – so do regular citizens.
    Thanks for reporting on this. I hope people keep the press on the City government especially before the election. This really is example of double standard.

  3. I’ve seen a gym called City Barbell on Mission St that still lets people go workout. Pretty sure it’s not just for police use only !

  4. So are you also going to do an article on how the SFFD gyms are also open or are we just going to target the Police? By the way, the Mayor does use the gym at the public safety building.

    SFPD gyms were closed for a few weeks when it was mandated by the state, however, as physical fitness is a part of the job there was push back from the officers because there was no where for a lot of them to keep their physical fitness at a level that is satisfactory to the job. Not everyone has access to equipment at home, and this is an essential part of law enforcement. If a cop isn’t physically fit, they can’t do this job well. The station gyms are also private and letters were sent to OSHA disputing the closing of them.

    There are several gyms in SF that are also still operating under the radar and you don’t see the police raiding them.

    1. If you have evidence Breed has been using these gyms last 6 months then that evidence needs to be published now!

  5. And the attack on police continues. I wonder if firefighters work out at their fire station gyms? If they do I’m sure it wouldn’t make the paper. Always digging for dirt on law enforcement.

  6. As a personal trainer who had a thriving rehabilitation business that is now gone I am incredibly shocked and saddened.
    I have followed city protocols and lost everything only to find out I was being fooled.??
    Our prolonged phase 2.1 isn’t even being followed by city employees ? By our representative ?
    Wow. I’m beyond words with frustration.
    The offer to set up gyms outside during fire season and cold wet weather …? Really ?!
    The air quality is unhealthy.
    Not to mention the impracticality of moving weights, machines, benches outside everyday and packing up every night !
    Enough !
    So many small gyms have closed permanently. I just can’t believe this city’s government !

  7. Thank you for your reporting. Especially with the unhealthy air quality occurring now (and possibly into the next few months), we all need the indoor facilities for exercise/play. I have been raising the question of city swimming pools for months, with no adequate response. City and university and club swimming pools are a valuable resource for people’s health. Even with good air quality, there are people whose joints or other health issues don’t give them much option when it comes to exercise. Swimming a great exercise.

    I appreciate Dr. Aragon’s response re the gyms, and hope that he will be able to apply the same rationale to other inside businesses and community facilities.

    1. There is absolutely no evidence to support why gyms need to remain shut if they can be open and run in a safe manner. Same for any business. Covid spread is predominately Thru community spread in high risk communities where multi generational living accommodations are common. So what are Colfax and Breed actually doing to help these communities? Nothing. Instead it’s easier for them to enforce a one size fits all lockdown in the city and continually move the goal posts on reopening to simply protect their own livelihoods – to hell with everyone else.

      RECALL BREED NOW. FIRE COLFAX NOW. We deserve the truth why our city is being strangled to death!!

  8. This would be great journalism if it was true. The gyms may be open now, but to say that they never closed is a lie. The claim is that the gyms never closed during the pandemic; not true. Mr Eskenazi, do you contend that the gyms never closed? If you were truly an investigative reporter you would find that they were closed. Apparently ML doesn’t believe in true and accurate report writing.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      After publication of this story, I received written information indicating at least one of the station gyms closed and then reopened.

      So, yes, to say they “never” closed was indeed inaccurate — as would be the case if they closed for 10 minutes or a few days or a few weeks. So we have removed that language.

      But, really, that’s not the point of this story despite your Ahab-like fixation.

      The point here — which should be resplendently clear to you and everyone — is that the Health Order keeping private businesses closed is not being applied to these gyms.

      They have been open during the Shelter-in-Place order and are open now.

      That’s not to say the police using them have behaved irresponsibly. To the contrary, this has not been a renegade action. This was officially sanctioned, so far as anyone can tell.

      The issue here is that a standard which has, at least for these city-operated gyms, been deemed responsible and feasible solution, is not being applied evenly.

      If there is a reason this is appropriate for gyms in police stations and other government buildings but not private establishments, that should be explained.

      Thanks for your input on the quality of our journalism and your unrelenting focus on what really matters.



  9. Do as I say, not as I do. Sad but true for some government officials. I wish they would follow the same rules as us.

  10. Six months we’ve had to suffer a draconian lockdown that has ruined people’s livelihoods and their general health all because the inept public health experts in this city have no clue how to protect vulnerable communities while allowing everyone else to get back to some sort of normal. And all the while those on the inside are allowed to go about their daily lives using gyms and getting their hair cut in their fancy salons like nothing had changed. Recall Breed and fire Colfax NOW.

  11. WOW! Great job on this week’s anti police article!

    I can’t wait to see what you guys come out with next week!

  12. Great journalism. The broader point, I believe, is that other gyms should have been allowed to operate using the same protocols. As soon as it was clear that it is relatively safe. The city’s gyms should be allowed to open mañana!

  13. Another well crafted article that is objective. Joe, you’ll never get hired by the Chronicle. Objectivity is anathema.

  14. There is a private gym close to where I live that is actively open with equipment outdoors, has been for at least a week. A high end men’s barber shop has been operating outdoors for weeks, chair and all.

    The rules in this city are so opaque and enforced so rarely, is it really shocking that city officials have had indoor gyms this entire time?

    I wish there was a “Reset SF” button on November’s ballot. (Remember when we reconstituted schools in the 1990’s? Maybe we need that on the city level. Wishful thinking on my part.)

    1. You are contradicting the SFPD itself, which sent me a written statement as well as, also in writing, the tally culled from the *handwritten sign-in sheets for the Third Street gym* — and, also, the written rules for SFPD gym usage, which are currently applied.

      So, I’ll go with that.

      Also, it’s “bald-faced.” Sorry to be the grammar police, but maybe that entitles me to use the grammar gym.


      1. So how many stations/units are there? How many gyms are there in the SFPD? All of these facilities remained open during the pandemic? We all know that the gym at the 3rd street police station remained open at the beginning of the pandemic. Isn’t that where Mayor Breed thought she had been exposed to COVID 19 from a member of the SFPD.?That gym was closed shortly thereafter. This non-story is hardly a revelation thereafter.

      2. How many police stations and facilities are there? How many gyms does SFPD have? None of these closed during the pandemic? In addition, hardly a revelation that the gym at the 3rd street police station was open at the beginning of the pandemic. That is where Mayor Breed thought she had been exposed to COVID 19 from a member of SFPD. That gym closed shortly thereafter.

        1. Sir or madam — 

          Police within the building, as of 3:39 p.m., confirm to me that the Third Street gym is open. Right now.

          Multiple sources throughout the city have confirmed the openness of other city gym facilities, including the one in the Hall of Justice and the Medical Examiner’s office. I am told Medical Examiners must lift heavy bodies, which justifies this gym remaining open.

          In short: The gyms are open. I suggest you find another conspiracy theory to embrace.



          1. Hi Joe — Don’t forget that is the gym where London Breed works out, per your earlier article that mentioned the gym when a FOIA request got a bunch of her text messages. Was her name on the sign in sheet at any of these places? I would be very surprised if she had NOT put in a work out during this time. Because that’s how these “obey me, but I’ll do whatever I want” types roll in this city. It’s despicable.

          2. You are correct. But we have not yet proven she visited since March and should not make insinuations.


          3. I’m still not sure about this outrage regarding gyms inside of police/fire stations.

            Are these gyms somehow open to the public ? How would someone from DPH get past the security?

            I guess the readers/commenters want fatter, lazier cops

          4. Dave — 

            I don’t think the point is all that difficult to grasp. If it has been determined that it’s safe for police to behave in this manner, the owners of gyms — facing fiscal oblivion after months of closure — would like for their clientele to behave in this manner, too.

            Again, not difficult to grasp.


  15. If anything, cops have more and more intimate contact with more people than civilians. If their gym full of more likely exposed people did not cause a cluster, than that’s decent evidence to open up real gyms with masking, ventilation and no cardio indoors.

    Like Muni, DPW has had months to get their act together but are under no pressure to do so in real time. They continue to get paid while the economy languishes. When the economy languishes under neoliberal capitalism, then that invokes the shock doctrine which will see us all as serfs to Bezos. I’ll take the risk masked up indoors with precautions, thanks.

    1. There’s a difference though. The police officers using the gyms are the same group that have to work together during their shifts and the same people they are coming into contact with on a daily basis. Due to covid, there’s been less exposure of civilians with police and social distancing is being observed in most cases.

      I see the people on my work shift more than I see my family at home. I spend more time in an enclosed space with my co workers- the same ones every single day, than I do my family.

    1. Time to reign in the police unions.
      I am a long time union supporter, it gave me a great middle class life growing up.
      But a union that protects violent cops, needs reform. ASAP

      1. what does the union have to do with the gyms in the stations being open?

        While were at it, lets reform the Teacher’s Union, the SEIU, Local 2,

      2. The police unions have nothing to do with the gyms at each station. Each stations gyms were privately funded by the station members. They aren’t funded by the city, they don’t receive monthly payments etc for the usage of the gyms. It’s private equipment bought by police officers for use at the station to comply with the state mandate of keeping their physical fitness at a satisfactory level.

        I personally have never paid the POA a cent for the gyms at any of the stations, so I’m not sure why you are trying to link this to the POA.

        Again, where’s any info on SFFD gyms? We just going to continue to pick on the police? How about you also go report on all the private gyms in the city that are still operating behind closed doors. I’d name a few but honestly, those people are just trying to make a living.

    1. The real outrage here is the public health response fiasco that has devastated the Bay Area since day 1 of the lockdown. Completely arbitrary rules on who can and cannot open businesses none of it based on scientific evidence at all. Instead their response has relied on faulty logic and ridiculously inept strategies for covid data collection, analysis and “prevention”. Guidelines that are prohibitively destroying, not saving, lives and all done to protect political livelihoods. That is the real outrage here and yet state and local govt officials get a free pass when it comes to explaining exactly why this is being allowed to happen in the Bay Area.

      Every single supervisor, mayor, public health “expert” should be held fully accountable for the needless damage wrecked on people’s lives all in the pursuit of political gain and backside covering. Shame on the lot of them.