COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s decision to shut down gyms and fitness centers was “arbitrary, unreasonable and oppressive,” a judge ruled Wednesday in a largely symbolic finding that nevertheless underscored an ongoing debate over the state’s response to the pandemic.

The nine-page ruling by Lake County Court Judge Eugene Lucci applies only to gyms in that northeastern Ohio county. Meanwhile, gyms are set to reopen May 26 under an updated order announced last week by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

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Lucci responded to a lawsuit brought by gym owners that argued Health Director Dr. Amy Acton exceeded her authority when she lumped places to exercise into the nonessential business category on March 22 and ordered them closed.

Lucci agreed, saying Acton acted “in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner and without any procedural safeguards.”

Gyms provide important physical and mental benefits when operated safely, but are also not places where people concerned about the coronavirus are forced to go, the judge said.

“Prolonged lockdowns have deleterious effects upon the public psyche,” the judge added. “Humans are naturally social beings; socialization strengthens immunities against disease and benefits psychological health.”

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A message was left with the Attorney General’s office, which represented Acton. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor disagreed with the judge’s analysis of the law, but noted gyms are opening soon regardless.

Though the ruling is largely moot because of gyms’ imminent reopening, appealing the case could benefit the state by clarifying whether it has authority to issue such orders, said Jonathan Adler, a constitutional law professor at Case Western Reserve University.

“The existence of an emergency does not trigger a law-free zone,” Adler said. “It is valuable to have a better understanding of what sorts of power the state can and can’t exercise when there is a public health or other emergency.”

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