Gym owner fined $1,000 for keeping his doors open as Sonoma County remains in purple tier

All Bay Area counties are making pandemic progress except one: Sonoma. 

The county of about a half-million people is still in the state's purple tier, the most restrictive, indicating "widespread" risk.

And a Sonoma gym owner found enforcement of the county COVID19 order has not faded.

"I had five members inside my warehouse space all wearing masks," explained Sonoma Fit founder Adam Kovacs. "A handful of individuals in one tiny section of the gym doesn't justify a $1,000 fine."

On Tuesday, a county staffer entered Kovac's 16,000-square-foot facility on Highway 12 and wrote Kovacs a citation for violating the public health prohibition on exercising inside.

"No warning, just pay $1,000," said Kovacs. "I said, 'Sir, I've been closed for seven months, I have enough bills to pay."

Kovacs admits he has allowed members inside recently because the rules seem nonsensical compared to neighboring counties.

"You can go to Napa County right now, a ten-minute drive, and dine inside, drink with your buddies for hours, without wearing masks, and that's okay," he complained.

At a briefing to county supervisors on Wednesday, the public health officer explained why Sonoma lags behind the rest of the Bay Area on tamping down the coronavirus and reopening sectors of the economy.

"To move to the next tier, the state wants us to have less than 35 new cases a day, but right now we are closer to 65 new cases a day," said Dr. Sundari Mase.

Mase notes coronavirus numbers remain stubbornly high in agricultural and working-class areas; the zip code with the highest numbers is 95407, which includes the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa.  

"For us, really, it's the Latinx group, the low-income group and the essential worker community," said Mase.

Those individuals may live and work in close quarters, and unable to skip work if sick because they have no way to make up the income.

Some workplaces have also suffered outbreaks.

"Agriculture and farm work, wineries, vineyards, that sort of activity is very specific to our county," said Mase.

This week, Sonoma County supervisors approved $4 million for a comprehensive pandemic response, with another $12 million pending to last until mid- 2021.

The money will be used to double testing in vulnerable communities and provide $30 gift cards to those who get tested.

It will also secure more hotel rooms so infected workers can isolate near their families, and provide $1200 stipends to replace lost wages during a two-week quarantine perod.

Non-profits and community-based agencies will also step-up outreach to underserved communities.

"We're thinking about stress, immunity, and nutrition," said health advocate Jocelyn Boreta of the Botanical Bus, a bilingual mobile herb clinic.

Boreta worries the pandemic is disproportionately hurting people who already suffer from health care disparities.

Her organization is launching clinics every week in affected neighborhoods to provide care and guidance to domestic workers, day laborers, and farmworkers. 

"The choice of going to work or not going to work is not one that we have," said Boreta, "because we are essential, we are in people's homes, cleaning their houses, and caring for the elderly."

She has observed ill effects of recent wildfires and smoke, reducing resistance to infection.

"Sleeplessness and stress are very high, fires are traumatic for our community and for those who have to show up to work through this trauma, it's incredibly difficult," said Boreta.

Gym owner Kovacs welcomes the new initiatives but criticizes county delay. 

"Why are we only starting to pay attention to these things now?", said Kovacs, whose gym in Novato does welcome members inside, under Marin County guidelines: social distance, masks-wearing, and sanitizing.

But 10 minutes away, across the county line? 

"Drive two exits north and go to my Petaluma gym now, you're a massive threat to public health and that's why they have to fine you," he said bitterly.

His Sonoma locations are able to conduct outdoor fitness classes, which require dragging equipment in and out.

Kovacs says he can't promise to enforce the indoor ban, even after receiving the $1,000 citation.

"Gyms or businesses that operate safely are no threat to public health, period," declared Kovacs.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU