No one can deny the financial collateral damage caused by the mandatory shutdown of Massachusetts businesses in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
For state businesses deemed nonessential, their immediate closure in March left thousands without jobs, while owners of those concerns still faced other associated fixed costs like rent, mortgage, taxes and utility bills.
We can’t fully appreciate the hardship this lockdown has caused, but we do understand that this crisis situation left the governor, in consultation with his health care team and experts from various other fields, no other choice but to make these difficult decisions.
In hindsight, the steps Gov. Charlie Baker took to neutralize the spread of COVID-19 have generally been vindicated.
Once one of the three or four hardest-hit states, Massachusetts has experienced a pronounced decline in the number of coronavirus deaths, infections, hospitalizations and positive test results.
While the cautious approach to reopening the economy proceeds, other states that were quick to allow businesses to reopen, including Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arizona, are now inundated with record numbers of COVID-19 cases daily.
Virtually all affected Bay State businesses and organizations — either willingly or grudgingly — accepted the governor’s directives, with only houses of worship the exception.
When advised by the Justice Department of a likely First Amendment lawsuit, Massachusetts and other states allowed churches to reopen. Many sensible church leaders have wisely declined that invitation, due to the obvious potential for infection and spread of the virus.
Perhaps encouraged by that separation-of-church-and-state victory, owners of five physical-fitness facilities filed suit against the governor’s office last week requesting that their Best Fitness gyms be allowed to reopen immediately.
Having been declared nonessential and placed in phase 3 of the reopening plan, Gym World Inc. argues ordering its closure deprives the company of the right to earn a living, a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
CEO David Dos Santos’ lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, also calls for compensation for lost business and for Baker to classify gyms as essential businesses in any future virus-caused shutdowns.
Gym World operates 11 gyms under the name Best Fitness, including two in Chelmsford, with the others in Lowell, Springfield and Danvers. The remaining six facilities are in New Hampshire and New York.
According to Dos Santos, the five Best Fitness gyms in Massachusetts totaled about $15 million in monthly revenue when open and employed about 310 workers. When the gyms closed their doors to their roughly 25,000 customers in March, they laid off staff and immediately suspended all monthly member billings.
We trust his corporation took advantage of the federal assistance to businesses provided by the Paycheck Protection Program. Companies can qualify for loans through the Small Business Association as an incentive to keep their workers on the payroll. The SBA will forgive those loans if those workers stay employed for eight weeks; the money also can be used for rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
Companies with up to 500 employees — and in some cases those with even more — are eligible to receive this federal loan, which charges just a 1% rate, even if all the requirements aren’t met.
Gym World’s certainly within its rights to sue the governor’s office for actions it took while under a state of emergency.
But its financial woes can be matched by hundreds of other Massachusetts companies, some of which will never reopen.
We believe a federal court would be hard-pressed to find any merit in this lawsuit.