Columbia County businesses continue to hold on despite experiencing the COVID-19 roller coaster of shutdowns mandated by the state.
Beginning Friday, April 30, Columbia County is once again in the "extreme risk" category, which allows only outdoor dining and strictly limited capacity at fitness facilities.
One of those businesses is Scappoose Fitness Connection, where owners Tim and Briana Rotter has been keeping an eye on COVID-19 risk levels that seem to change with the wind.
According to the fitness center, recently updated extreme risk guidelines for indoor fitness organizations make provisions for up to four groups of six, in separate areas, for gyms with at least 500 square feet.
Tim Rotter describes his business, which is about 11,000 square feet, as "the original gym in town."
During normal times, Scappoose Fitness Connection provides many offerings, including childcare and senior fitness classes. The facility offers cardio equipment, weight machines and free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells.
The fitness center says new weight machines have been added recently thanks to U.S. Small Business Administration loan funds.
"The goal was to upgrade all equipment, but funds had to be utilized to cover rent and payroll with a significant drop in revenue over the last year," said Briana Rotter.
Pre-pandemic, the Rotters said Scappoose Fitness Connection would see up to 40 to 50 people enjoying the gym and classes. But for the time being, even though more people are getting vaccinated, the Scappoose facility, at least for the time being, will look different.
"We're allowed to be open, but it's very restrictive on the capacities," Tim Rotter said. "Fitness is something people rely on not only for their physical health, but mental health. As I think we all know by now, it's been a difficult year on everybody's mental health."
He added, "Thinking we're coming out of this, then all of a sudden having this restriction come back into place is pretty deflating for a lot of people, including myself. It's pretty frustrating. I'm not a COVID denier, but it's impacting a lot of people's lives."
Tim Rotter is critical of the way Gov. Kate Brown has been handling the coronavirus epidemic, questioning the effectiveness of the measures.
"It's just restriction after restriction," he lamented.
The Rotters have been able to keep their fitness center running, despite all the restrictions.
"We're able to stay in business," Tim Rotter said. "I wouldn't say that we're doing particularly well. This last year, we saw a 70 percent decline in income and memberships.
"We've had great support from a lot of patrons, too. That's been really helpful and encouraging because, honestly, in the darkest times in the pandemic we've questioned, 'Why are we even doing this?'"
While his business has been surviving the pandemic, Tim Rotter feels for restaurants, which during extreme risk must close their indoor dining.
"My wife and I have been very supportive of restaurants," he said. "We try to eat out at least once a week to support local businesses."
Describing the latest extreme risk mandate from Salem, Tim Rotter, remaining optimistic, said, "I think this is, hopefully, the last time based on vaccination rates. Hopefully, this is kind of a last-ditch effort, but while the rest of the United States is kind of going one way, it seems like Oregon is just going the other way."
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