Richmond gym owner defies Gov. Beshear’s order, opens early

RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ)-A Richmond gym owner is defying the governor’s orders, reopening his gym this week seven days earlier than the state is allowing.

He says gyms are essential, even though the state doesn’t see it that way.

Neil Burns closed his gym March 16 after the governor announced gyms would have to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We got scared. We closed a day early,” Burns said.

He was scared of getting people sick, but he says his clients got sick anyway, just not from coronavirus.

“One client who gained 80 pounds in two months. I have other clients that started smoking and depression. Almost everybody that comes here has gained weight,” Burns said.

It upset him so much he couldn’t hold back anymore. He opened his doors Monday, a week earlier than the governor’s allowing

“I will have to get arrested. I’m not shutting down again,” Burns said.

He says the governor may not think so, but gyms are essential and should’ve reopened last month to keep immune systems and mental health strong.

“It’s a place where we change lives and save lives. When you have people calling you crying and I just couldn’t take anymore,” Burns said.

He runs a small businesses. Does he just need to reopen to survive financially?

“Honestly, we’re so blessed with the people that come here that all of them pay their boot camp stuff anyway…It’s not about money at all,” Burns said.

How would he feel if someone gets sick with coronavirus because they workout at his gym?

“Oh, I’d feel horrible. Anyone else would feel horrible, but we go through steps,” Burns said.

Those steps include sanitizing, requiring clients sign in for contact tracing, and practicing social distancing using blue tape on the floor.

It’s enough to satisfy the almost ten clients who showed up Tuesday evening for class and for personal training client Jacob Shackelford and mom Alverta.

“It’s been the biggest blessing,” Alverta Shackelford said.

She says Burns has donated time to help Jacob regain strength after his right side was paralyzed from a massive stroke three years ago, but in the last 70 days he’s lost almost all his new strength.

Mom says it’s worth the coronavirus risk to get it back.

“I was terrified in the beginning, but this is a small gym and, like Neil said, this is like family to us,” Shackelford said.

The governor doesn’t want people risking it, though.

“Group classes? Well, I mean that’s a way in a small area COVID’s certainly going to spread,” the governor said in response to Burns reopening.

Some doctors call gyms the perfect storms for transmitting coronavirus with heavy breathing in an enclosed space.

“To this gym owner, with every other gym owner out there, you’re not special. Everyone’s in this together. We’re all trying to do the right things. We can disagree on the timing of it, but everyone should have to follow their own rules,” the governor said.

He didn’t confirm whether Burns would face consequences, just that he’s sure he’ll be hearing from some people, but Burns says he doesn’t care. He can’t stand to see people suffering, as he says his clients have

Burns says he knows some of his clients won’t feel comfortable coming back yet and he says that’s okay. He’ll continue offering free Facebook live classes until June first.

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