Pacifica yoga studio under investigation after hosting 'mask free, virus-free' classes for months

"If it's a pandemic, wouldn't we be stacking bodies?" the Pacifica studio owner Thomas Antoon told ABC7.

Stephanie Sierra Image
Friday, October 16, 2020
'Mask-free, virus-free' yoga classes prompt Bay Area investigation
A hot yoga studio in Pacifica is under investigation after more than a dozen complaints alleging he has defied local and state COVID-19 health guidelines since April.

PACIFICA, Calif. (KGO) -- A Pacifica hot yoga studio is under investigation after more than a dozen complaints alleged he has defied state public health guidelines since April.

"I'm not afraid of the virus," said Thomas Antoon, the owner of Pacifica Beach Yoga. "So what? It's over. OK. That's great."

Antoon told the ABC7 I-Team he has been hosting in-person, mask-free yoga classes for the past seven months.

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"I mean if it's a pandemic, wouldn't we be stacking bodies? Stacking bodies? You don't even hear about anyone dying. Only what you listen to on the news," Antoon said."It's a bunch of bullsh**. It's bullsh**."

ABC7's Stephanie Sierra asked, "Are you concerned about potential spread?"

"No. No. It's been seven months," he said. "We have the distance. We do our yoga. They contain themselves here. They're all wiped, the spot you have when you leave. Then we come in and we clean it."

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According to Antoon, he takes every customer's temperature upon arrival and follows a rigorous cleaning routine in between each class.

"So we have this fogger. It's full of 99 percent pure alcohol and we fog the entire studio. The floors. The bathrooms. The changing areas. The front lobby between each class," he said.

Inside the studio, Antoon said he can accommodate 11 people socially distanced by the tape.

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Stephanie: "How long have you been operating like this?

Antoon: "You're recording me though."

Stephanie: "Well. Yes. But, just to clarify how long?"

Antoon: "Been doing it for a long time."

Stephanie: "7 months? Or? 7 months?"

Antoon: "When's the pandemic, when's this thing all started. Whenever that all started."

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According to state public health guidelines, gyms, including yoga studios, were not allowed to reopen on a permanent basis from March until Sept. 22.

At that point, in-person instruction has been permitted only at 10 percent capacity. Yet, Antoon tells ABC7 he is operating with 11 people in a studio that can accommodate 26, which is more than 40 percent capacity.

Stephanie: "You are aware this is against the rules."

Antoon: "No. Not as far as I know. I haven't heard nothing."

Stephanie: "It's required to have masks inside."

Antoon: "Yeah well."

Stephanie: "You are aware of that."

Antoon: "But, it's optional."

Stephanie: "What?"

Antoon: "Everyone's option is to wear a mask."

Stephanie: "It is a state and county requirement."

Antoon: "Yeah. That's what you said. I don't know. I don't see no laws."

Stephanie: "I can show you."

After we saw complaints from consumers online, we requested an interview with Pacifica Police Captain Chris Clements to check on enforcement. He declined to go on camera, but did confirm the department is investigating.

Pacifica Beach Yoga has received 16 complaints about health order violations since April. One of the complaints resulted in a written warning issued back in May.

"Totally irresponsible. It really jeopardizes the health and safety of the public," said Mike Callagy, manager of San Mateo County.

Callagy explains the county's latest urgency ordinance provides new penalties for commercial businesses violation health orders. These fines can range from $250 to $3,000 per violation.

"We've already received complaints of businesses not complying with state regulations," said Callagy. "We will be going out to them and contacting them to make sure they comport with all regulations."

According to Callagy, the county is launching a COVID-19 Compliance Unit next week.

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"We'll have a way for the public to report businesses that are non-compliant," he said. "We will send out emails to these businesses. We will go out and make sure we follow up with them. And if they're not complying, then we'll seek civil penalties and criminal prosecution."

But, it appears Antoon isn't concerned.

"Do you think what they're going to do is bother me? I'm living my life. I'm saving lives here. I will never close this place," he said. "Never. Never."

After Antoon and Sierra finished their conversation, as promised, Sierra came back to explain the regulations specifically pertaining to businesses like his.

"I have the guidelines right here to show you. I can show you them right here," said Sierra, speaking to Antoon through the door.

But, Antoon wasn't interested.

If you know of a business in San Mateo County that is not complying with public health guidelines, you can file a complaint to the COVID-19 Compliance Unit by calling 211 or filing a report online starting Monday.

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