HHS kept its gym open during coronavirus distancing

The federal health department kept its own fitness center open even as the coronavirus outbreak raged and private gyms shuttered their doors.

Staff at the Health and Human Services department received an email on Wednesday afternoon, which was shared with POLITICO, reminding them that “the HHS fitness center remains open.” An attendant at the gym around 1 p.m. on Thursday also confirmed that the facility was open.

But by 3:30 p.m. on Thursday — after POLITICO had submitted questions to the health department — calls to the fitness center were answered by a recorded message that “we are closed until further notice.” An HHS spokesperson confirmed that the gym is closed.

The HHS fitness center stayed open even as gyms around the country temporarily closed after the White House last week warned against gatherings of more than 10 people and called for Americans to self-isolate. Meanwhile, White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and other top health officials have warned that the coronavirus is likely being spread through traces of the virus left on commonly used surfaces, like subway poles, and have urged Americans to take caution when using shared spaces.

The U.S. Senate closed its gym a week ago, but some senators reportedly accessed it by keypad. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) used it Sunday morning before receiving a positive test result for coronavirus, prompting Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to tweet on Monday that her colleagues were “absolutely irresponsible.”

Current and former HHS staffers described the department’s fitness center as a gym with multiple workout areas, including weights and exercise equipment, and large enough to have group exercise classes.

The fitness center is inside HHS headquarters, and the department in recent days instituted a protocol where every employee must be screened and have their temperature checked entering the building.