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Officers arrest gym owner for refusing to force members to wear face masks during workouts

PLANTATION, Fla. – Michael Carnevale was contesting authorities’ decision to close his gym on Monday when he was arrested. He said he was allowing his members to choose whether or not they should wear a face mask during workouts. Officers locked his business.

Carnevale, who owns Fitness 1440, a 24-hour gym at 7067-A W. Broward Blvd., in Plantation, is among the business owners who believe the orders to wear face masks during the coronavirus pandemic are intrusive.

“If this whole thing is really about health, this is where we are getting into some murky waters here because I don’t see how I can make my patrons wear a mask while on a treadmill, or while they are exercising,” Carnevale said.

Officials say the orders are part of an effort to contain the spread of the disease. Some of the gym members may not know they are spreading the disease. And by doing so, authorities believe they are risking the lives of the most vulnerable residents.

“I don’t have it in me to close the facility because my intuition is just telling me this is wrong,” Carnevale said.

Carnavale has the support of Chris Nelson, who started the Reopen Florida group, and Florida House Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills-based attorney who has been challenging the constitutionality of the face mask mandates in the state.

THE TIMING

It took a while for officials to mandate face masks while the disease was spreading. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization offered conflicting advice at first.

According to the CDC, the disease mostly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement on July 14. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a public health emergency in Florida on March 1. Broward County declared a local state of emergency on March 10. WHO declared a pandemic on March 11. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13.

Broward County issued the face mask mandate on April 10.

THE CONTROVERSY

The trouble with gyms is there could be members who don’t know they are infected. Epidemiologists report data suggests that the majority of people who are infected experience mild or no symptoms.

This increases the risk for people who are vulnerable because they live with underlying health conditions, and have a higher propensity to die of the disease.

More than 5,930 people have died of COVID-19 in Florida ― including 1,404 in Miami-Dade and 607 in Broward, according to the Florida Department of Health. It’s unclear if contact tracers in South Florida have linked any of these deaths to gyms or fitness centers.

Officers said they responded to Carnevale’s gym because they received a 311 complaint from a Broward County resident. Carnevale said he is concerned about one of his gym members getting dizzy or fainting with a face mask on while on a treadmill.

“We have lost perspective,” Carnevale said. “We have lost common sense.”

Sabatini said the Broward County ordinance mandating residents must wear face masks at home is in violation of the Fourth Amendment, constitutional protection from unreasonable government searches and seizures.

“The face mask order violates several parts of the Florida constitution,” Sabatini recently said. “It violates the privacy clause, one of the most robust privacy clauses in the country. It violates due process.”

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