Gov. Gavin Newsom makes stop at Bakersfield gym: 'Renew your membership'

Jun. 17—Gov. Gavin Newsom has been promoting the newly-reopened California under the banner "California Roars Back" while also advocating for measures to keep Californians healthy, such as offering tickets to Six Flags Magic Mountain for vaccinated residents.

Newsom's Wednesday stop at In Shape, a fully reopened gym in Bakersfield, featured a little bit of both.

California's COVID-19 case, transmission, vaccination and hospitalization rates have been trending in the right direction, Newsom said. That's enabled gyms like In Shape's Seven Oaks location to open at full capacity as of June 15, allowing vaccinated members to go maskless and forgo the social distancing measures that have marked California's response to the pandemic.

Newsom even gave some of the gym equipment at the Seven Oaks location a whirl for the cameras. But he also said now is the time for Californians to think very seriously about the toll COVID-19 has taken on their physical and mental health. He had one very concrete suggestion.

"Renew your membership," Newsom said. "If you've been on the fence about getting healthy again, don't wait until New Year's Eve."

That was welcome news to gym and fitness club owners, who have been among the toughest critics of measures rolled out by Newsom's administration that shuttered or limited their capacity.

Jennifer Wright, owner and personal trainer at Emersion Crossfit, said it felt ironic to hear Newsom promoting gym membership after trying months of shutdowns, but she was glad to hear it.

"I think it needed to be said by him," she said.

Wright runs a small business with 125 members that weathered the storm thanks to a membership that supported them through tough times.

"They stayed with us," Wright said. "They brought their friends and family back."

One of Newsom's toughest critics was the California Fitness Alliance, an industry group that in September sued the state over rules that restricted access to fitness centers. Francesca Schuler, a founding member of the alliance and In-Shape Health Clubs' CEO, joined Newsom in Wednesday's press conference.

It was a hard year for everyone in the alliance, which she said represents not just large health clubs like the San Francisco-based chain, but yoga studios, kids clubs and neighborhood gyms.

Newsom said they had smoothed over their differences "by respecting each other." He said he always understood that closures hit the fitness industry and just about every other business sector hard.

"This is their business, this is their livelihood, this is their identity, their family, their employees," he said. "It's about their lives and their dreams."

Newsom said health clubs play an important role not just in helping people getting physically healthy but in helping people meet with one another again and feel less socially isolated.

"If there's one thing we learned this year, it's that health is essential: physical health and mental health," Schuler said.

Newsom was joined by his partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who announced the creation of the Governor's Advisory Council on Physical Fitness and Mental Well-Being. She will chair the committee along with football legend Ronnie Lott. The committee will include up to 15 members yet to be named.

Siebel Newsom said the goal of the council is to promote physical activity, sports, healthy food and wellness among Californians of all ages. There will be a special focus on young Californians and families. She said mothers especially have borne much of the burden of the pandemic. Focusing on physical activity and wellness is crucial for both them and their families.

Schuler trumpeted the formation of the council and said she looks forward to California becoming the healthiest state in the nation. She's especially happy with the current trajectory.

"It's been a crazy last few days," she said. "I think the energy around the state is palpable."

Earlier in the day, Newsom stopped at Bakersfield College where he received a tour of the college's Student Health and Wellness Center, according to a news release from the college. Students were receiving vaccine doses as well as registering for classes.

"During his visit, Gov. Newsom mingled with the Renegades and it was so much fun to see him chatting with student veterans, student nurses, student athletes, and engaging with the entire BC family," incoming Kern Community College District Chancellor Sonya Christian said in a statement.

Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh, also in attendance at Wednesday's press conference, said health is more precious than anything else. In the spirit of New Year's resolutions being moved up this year, she named a goal for the city.

"Bakersfield wants to be the healthiest city in California," she said.