Jim Worthington planned to open a day camp for children Monday at his sprawling Bucks County health club as schools across Pennsylvania close for two weeks due to the coronavirus.
Then came the blowback.
Now Worthington, a politically active supporter of President Donald Trump, is reversing course to cancel the camp and shut down his gym, the Newtown Athletic Club, on Sunday at 9 p.m.
Worthington said an employee who manages camp services at the club made the original call to open “School’s Out Camp” for children between the ages of 3 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on school days for two weeks. There were plans for pizza, juice, and snacks, along with an hour of swimming in the club’s pool.
Then the club’s manager started getting complaints. Worthington said he reached out to Bucks County Commission Chairperson Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who had also heard concerns about the camp.
“I guess as the owner, I’ll take the heat for it,” he said. “No harm, no foul.”
Gov. Tom Wolf on Saturday extended to Bucks and Chester Counties shutdown orders already in place in Montgomery and Delaware Counties for “significant social distancing” to contain the virus. The new restrictions take effect Sunday.
Wolf’s administration on Friday discouraged people statewide from “traveling to recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters, and shopping malls.”
Bucks County had three cases of coronavirus as of Saturday afternoon, part of 47 cases in 12 counties.
Worthington had already shuttered his health club in Montgomery County, the Horsham Athletic Club, for two weeks, and said he made the call to close the Newtown Club before he knew Wolf was adding Bucks County to the shutdown.
While he is complying, Worthington said it makes more sense for people to be living healthy lifestyles rather than discouraging them from visiting gyms.
“I honestly believe that is the exact wrong thing to do right now,” he said.
The Newtown club offers camp services during the summer and other times when schools are closed.
“We’re not doing it for the money,” said Worthington, noting that his club members already pay $150 per month in dues.
Worthington suspects some of the backlash is “politicized” due to his ties to Trump.
“Some of it is concerns for health and some of it is people who are not in favor of my political views,” he said. “Which is fine. But they kind of watch what I do and poke me when they can.”
Worthington worried the shutdown will harm his employees. He found it confusing that people could still visit bars but were being turned away from health clubs. He called that government “picking winners and losers” in the economics of a pandemic.
“Here you’re in a healthy environment,” he said at his club. “It’s as sterile an environment as you’ll find outside of a hospital.”
Shortly after this interview, Gov. Wolf and the state’s Departments of Health and Community & Economic Development urged nonessential businesses — including bars — to temporarily cease operations in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties to slow the spread of the coronavirus.