- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2020

A fitness-center owner has refused to comply with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest novel coronavirus shutdown order despite being threatened with criminal penalties, saying he would rather go to jail than close his doors.

Michael Knick, owner of Graham Fitness in Graham, Washington, about 40 miles south of Seattle, received Wednesday an “Order and Notice of Compliance” from the state Department of Labor and Industries warning of “criminal penalties” unless he ceases operations.

Mr. Knick, who is represented by the nonprofit think tank Freedom Foundation, posted a video afterward saying that he would resist the order, citing the hardship to small businesses.

“The lockdown on the fitness industry, it’s been detrimental to a lot of the mom-and-pop shops, businesses like mine,” Mr. Knick said. “If the government comes and forces me to close, they can take me to jail. They can give us a bunch of fines. We’re not too worried about that. They can fine me $1 million a day. What does it matter if my business is going to shut down if I shut down?”

Mr. Inslee announced last month a strict four-week shutdown order closing fitness facilities and gyms; banning indoor dining and drinking at restaurants and bars; prohibiting indoor wedding receptions and funerals; and nixing in-home gatherings unless participants quarantine beforehand.

The order expires on Dec. 14, although it could be extended. The state reported 2,095 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths as of Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 172,437 cases and 2,900 deaths, as reported by the Tacoma News Tribune. The state has a population of 7.6 million.

“This spike puts us in a more dangerous position as we were in March,” Mr. Inslee said at a Nov. 15 press conference. “And it means, unfortunately, the time has come to reinstate restrictions on activities statewide to preserve the public’s well-being, and to save lives.”

The fitness industry has argued that gyms are not COVID-19 super-spreaders. A Sept. 11 study by the Centers for Disease Control found “no statistically significant association between participants having a positive COVID-19 test result and visiting the gym,” said the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Mr. Knick accused the Democratic governor of overstepping his role by bypassing the state legislature as well as cherry-picking the data.

“In my opinion, I think he’s only looking at evidence and science that supports his narrative that he wants to push on the American people, and he’s trying to scare everyone into submission,” Mr. Knick said in an interview with conservative radio host Jason Rantz. “We do not want to give up our liberties for security.”

The Washington Times has reached out to the state Department of Labor and Industries for comment.

Mr. Knick, who said he has two young children and possibly a baby on the way, said he was being “harassed and coerced” just for “doing what it takes to survive.” Even so, he said he would refuse to back down.

“We’re not afraid, Gov. Jay Inslee,” Mr. Knick said. “I think you need to take a big step back and look at all the damage you’re doing and all the people you’re hurting.”

Another Freedom Foundation client, Slidewaters, sued after being shuttered by the state in July. The Chelan waterpark reached a settlement last month in which the state health department agreed to drop its threat to issue fines and revoke permits in exchange for Slidewaters dropping its federal appeal, the foundation said in a press release.

“The Freedom Foundation will continue to stand by these brave business owners against destructive government overreach by bureaucrats who haven’t had to miss a paycheck,” said Aaron Withe, Freedom Foundation national director.

The Community Gyms Coalition released a study Thursday showing that 39% of the 1,000 facilities surveyed said they would probably close in 2021 without federal relief.

“Local shutdown mandates and operating restrictions have hit the fitness industry harder than almost any other sector, putting thousands of local gyms at risk of imminent bankruptcy,” said the coalition, which represents 15,000 local gyms. “In every state, gyms have been among the first businesses forced to close and the last allowed to open, with many shut by government order for more than six months and counting.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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