Top fitness executives are fighting to keep gyms open amid coronavirus

  • As of Thursday, four states — including Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington — re-issued state-mandated shutdowns requiring gyms to temporarily close to halt the spread of the virus.
  • In conversations with Business Insider, the chief executives of Life Time Fitness, Self Esteem Brands, and Retro Fitness make their case for leaving fitness centers open and explain why they believe closing them is a threat to public health. 
  • “If you look at a macro level, what’s frustrating to us is this country has a health problem and it’s not just COVID,” said Self Esteem Brands Chuck Runyon. “There is no better time for health officials around the country to remind people to take control of our health.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

While the pandemic has put a damper on Thanksgiving plans for many Americans, rising coronavirus cases are also hindering traditional pre-feast fitness routines like annual turkey trot races and family gym outings. 

As of Thursday, four states — including Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington — re-issued state-mandated shutdowns requiring gyms to temporarily shutter to halt the spread of the virus. And while gyms in most states remain open for now, officials in regions like New York are enforcing earlier closing times and stricter capacity limits for fitness centers. 

The closures are sparking outcry and exacerbating existing feuds between gym owners and state officials regarding what types of businesses are permitted to remain open and determined essential. 

In conversations with Business Insider, the chief executives of Life Time Fitness, Self Esteem Brands, and Retro Fitness made their case for leaving fitness centers open and explain why they feel closing is a threat to public health. Here’s what they had to say. 

Gym owners push lawmakers for essential status 

Compounding the struggle for gym owners and consumers alike is a lack of conclusive data regarding exposure and infection rates at gyms, leaving many experts and policymakers at odds over the best course of action.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that “indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces” and several reports found fitness centers — including a spin studio in Ontario, Canada and an indoor ice rink in Massachusetts — tied to several coronavirus outbreaks. Further, a recent analysis by Northwestern University found that gyms were among superspreader venues early in the virus, based on cellphone mobility data. 

Still, other studies — including a September report from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association — are reporting contrary findings that show low risk of infection at gyms. While IHRSA reported infection rates as low as .0023% across 2,873 fitness centers, The Washington Post reported that concerns have arisen over the methodology of the survey and conflicts of interest in its development. 

Regardless, gym owners are fighting tooth and nail to keep their facilities open, using any helpful data point to their advantage. 

Among the most vocal opponents of gym closures is Bahram Akradi, the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness, a Minnesota-based company

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Poland’s Constitutional Court Has Effectively Banned Abortion, But We Will Not Stop Fighting For Our Fundamental Rights

Polish Abortion Protests Continue - Day Seven
Polish Abortion Protests Continue – Day Seven

A Pro-Choice activist holds a smoke flare during a protest in Krakow’s Market Square. Women’s rights activists and their supporters staged their seventh day of protests in Krakow and all over Poland, opposing pandemic restraint, to express their anger at the ruling of Polish Supreme Court, which tightened the already strict abortion laws. Credit – Artur Widak—NurPhoto via Getty Images

Poland’s anti-abortion laws have always been among the most restrictive in Europe. Until this week the procedure was only permitted when the pregnancy posed a threat to the woman’s life; if there was a fatal fetal abnormality or in cases rape or incest.

However on Oct. 22 the country’s constitutional court ruled that a fatal fetal abnormality was not justification for terminating a pregnancy and violates the constitution. For the over 10 million women of reproductive age in Poland, this ruling effectively puts in place a complete ban on abortion.

According to official data, just over 1,100 legal abortions are performed annually in Poland–98% of which are in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities. The procedure prevented further pain and suffering for both the woman and the fetus.

While the court’s ruling has not yet come into force, many Polish hospitals have already stopped carrying out terminations. Women with scheduled procedures are having their appointments canceled. Women with a diagnosis of fatal fetal abnormality are not being provided with information and don’t know where to find help, left alone with their tragic news. At the Federation for Women and Family Planning we are getting calls from men asking for help for their wives or partners. The women are often so devastated they are unable to speak.

We try to support them as much as possible and there are some doctors who support them too. After our campaigning some hospitals have again begun to perform abortions but it is only a drop in the ocean of what is needed.

The ruling is an outrageous violation of women’s human rights. Women are being treated like living incubators. We do not have any rights, not even the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Polish Constitution: the right to health, the right to private life, the right to equal treatment.

Not one word was said in defense of women during the debate. The fetus, called the “conceived child,” has the rights of an already existing life. During the Tribunal’s debate the most cruel statement was that we cannot “kill a conceived child” just because its birth would “reduce the comfort of a woman’s life.”

Forcing a woman to give birth to a child with severe, irreversible conditions is cruelty. Whether or not to keep the pregnancy should be the decision of the woman, or the woman and her partner. They will be the only ones to bear the traumatic consequences of this decision.

The politicians of the ruling party in Poland allowed the politicized Tribunal to issue what is a cruel and shameful decision. They hoped that the

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Fighting A High Medical Bill Takes Tenacity And Health Insurance Know-How : Shots

When Tiffany Qiu found herself on the hook for her usual 30% Blue Shield of California coinsurance after the hospital quoted 20%, she pushed back.

Shelby Knowles for KHN


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Shelby Knowles for KHN

When Tiffany Qiu found herself on the hook for her usual 30% Blue Shield of California coinsurance after the hospital quoted 20%, she pushed back.

Shelby Knowles for KHN

When Tiffany Qiu heard how much her surgery was going to cost her, she was sure the hospital’s financial department had made a mistake. Qiu already knew from a breast cancer scare earlier that year that her plan required a 30% coinsurance payment on operations, so she pressed the person on the phone several times to make sure she had heard correctly: Her coinsurance payment would be only 20% if she had the procedure at Palomar Medical Center in Poway, California, about 38 miles south of where Qiu lives.

“I was kind of in doubt, so I called them a second time,” said Qiu. “They gave me the exact same amount.”

Qiu had been diagnosed with uterine polyps, a benign condition that was making her periods heavier and more unpredictable. Her OB-GYN proposed removing them but said it was safe to wait. Qiu said that she asked about the possibility of doing it in the doctor’s office under local anesthesia to make the procedure cheaper, but that her doctor rebuffed her suggestion.

Because Qiu thought she was getting a deal on her usual 30% share of the bill, she decided to go ahead with the polyp removal on Nov. 5, 2019. As she sat in the waiting room filling out forms, staffers let her know she needed to pay in full before the surgery.

Unease set in. The hospital asked for the 20% coinsurance — $1,656.10 — that she had been quoted over the phone, but Qiu hadn’t been told she needed to pay on the day of the procedure. As she handed over her credit card, she confirmed one more time that this would be her total patient responsibility, barring complications.

The surgery was over in less than 30 minutes, and she walked out of the hospital with her husband, feeling perfectly fine.

Then the bill came.

Patient: Tiffany Qiu is a 49-year-old real estate agent and mother of two who lives in Temecula, California. Her family of four is covered by a Blue Shield of California policy that she and her husband purchased on the marketplace. Last year, they paid a $1,455 monthly premium, with an individual annual $1,850 deductible and an individual out-of-pocket maximum of $7,550.

Total Bill: Palomar Health billed Blue Shield $22,219.64 for the polyp removal, which the insurer negotiated down to $8,576.79. Blue Shield paid $5,769.72 and stated in an explanation of benefits document that Qiu was responsible for a $334.32 deductible and $2,472.75 coinsurance.

Because Qiu had already paid $1,873.20 on the day of surgery, the hospital billed her an additional $933.87, which meant Qiu was on

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Some doctors fighting the pandemic now have another thing to worry about

But now the doctor, on a fellowship at a Boston hospital, is facing a new anxiety: that new immigration restrictions could make it harder for him to stay in the country.

Satiya is one of thousands of foreign doctors who came to the United States on a visa that recently landed in the Trump administration’s crosshairs.

On the surface, it may sound like a small bureaucratic move. But Satiya and organizations representing doctors across the country warn it could affect medical care for Americans at a time when the country needs resources to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

For Satiya, 30, who grew up in India and came to the US in 2016, it also throws his immediate future in the US into jeopardy.

“You are anxious, you are nervous, you’re stressful,” Satiya said about waiting to see what happens with his visa. “But you know, you keep on doing what you’re doing. You go to work every day … you see your patients … and you just hope for the best.”

What the visa change would do

Satiya is one of about 12,000 doctors who are foreign nationals in the United States on a J-1 visa, according to the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Visitors on J-1 visas are admitted to the US for the length of their training program — for doctors, it’s typically a one-year contract at a hospital, renewed annually for the duration of their residency.

When physicians on J-1 visas complete their competency reviews and get their contracts extended for another year, they then apply for visa renewal through the ECFMG.

But under the proposed rule, the annual visa renewal would require an additional step — applying through US Customs and Immigration Services. That processing time could take 5 to 19 months, according to the USCIS website, and interrupt doctors’ ability to continue working at their hospitals.

Satiya was working at a hospital in New York when the pandemic hit and forced him and other doctors to adapt.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees USCIS, says the change is needed for federal officials to more closely monitor these visitors while they are in the US to address “a potential for increased risk to national security.”

“This regulatory change, which will establish a fixed period of admission for F, J and I nonimmigrants, aims to help DHS enforce our nation’s immigration laws and promptly detect national security concerns, while protecting the integrity of these nonimmigrant programs,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement.

The ECFMG and other major medical organizations around the country have asked the DHS to make an exception for medical trainees.

The DHS is seeking public comments on the rule and has received more than 23,000 of them so far.

Some argue the rule would protect American jobs

Foreign med-school graduates like Satiya go through an extensive selection process to get their positions in the US, providing the talent and expertise President Trump has said he wants in the country’s immigrants.

Public comments responding to the DHS proposal include testimonials from medical educators concerned about the potential impact. Other commenters have argued
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Coronavirus spreads in Nagorno-Karabakh amid heavy fighting

As fighting rages in the South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh, people infected with the coronavirus pack into cold basements alongside the healthy to shelter from artillery fire

These are the grim realities of the pandemic in Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist region in the South Caucasus mountains beset by weeks of heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

“We just don’t have time to think about coronavirus,” said Irina Musaelyan, a resident of the regional capital of Stepanakert who was sheltering in a basement with her neighbors.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia for more than a quarter-century. It is facing the largest escalation of fighting since a war there ended in 1994, with hundreds killed since Sept. 27. Two attempts at cease-fires have failed.

The fighting has diverted the region’s scarce resources from containing the virus, which spread unchecked amid artillery fire and drone attacks that have people spending many hours in overcrowded bunkers, whether they are sick or healthy. Contact tracing has ground to a halt.

Health care workers have been hit particularly hard.

“Almost everyone got infected. Some had it in a light form and others in a more serious one,” Dr. Malvina Badalyan, head of the infectious disease clinic in Stepanakert, said of the region’s health workers.

But in the middle of a war, with wounded flooding into hospitals, there’s nothing to do but keep working.

“Many doctors and nurses knew that they were infected, but they kept mum about it,” said Ararat Ohanjanyan, the health minister for Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional government. “They may lie down in a corner to bring the fever down and then get up and continue to perform operations.”

“No one has the right now to step aside,” he added.

When the the latest escalation of fighting started, medical workers had no time or resources to deal with the outbreak, Ohanjanyan said.

“We didn’t have time to track down those infected while Stepanakert came under heavy shelling, and it allowed contagion to spread,” he said.

Ohanjanyan himself tested positive for the virus just over a week ago — and he, too, has continued working despite a fever and pneumonia.

In the past week, the shelling of Stepanakert has become less intense and ambulance crews have finally been able to visit shelters and basements to track down the sick, Ohanjanyan said, adding that regular testing and isolation of those infected has resumed.

Patients in the most serious condition have been sent to Armenia, while others have been admitted to hospitals or are treated at home.

Ohanjanyan said authorities

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As fighting rages in Nagorno-Karabakh, coronavirus spreads

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh (AP) — People infected with the coronavirus pack into cold basements along with the healthy to hide from artillery fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, while doctors who have tested positive do surgery on those wounded in the shelling. These are the grim realities of the pandemic in a region beset by weeks of heavy fighting.

Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia for more than a quarter-century, is facing the largest escalation of hostilities since a war there ended in 1994. In just over three weeks, hundreds of people have been killed. Two attempts at cease-fires have failed to stop the conflict.

The fighting has diverted the region’s scarce resources from containing the outbreak, which spread unchecked during the first two weeks of fighting that began on Sept. 27.

Contact-tracing ground to a halt, and intense artillery and rocket strikes forced people into overcrowded bunkers, where it was impossible to separate the sick from the healthy. Health workers have been hit particularly hard.


“Almost everyone got infected, some had it in a light form and others in a more serious one,” Malvina Badalyan, chief doctor at the infectious disease clinic in the regional capital of Stepanakert, said of health workers in the region.

But in the middle of a war, with wounded people flooding into hospitals, there’s nothing to do but keep working.

“Many doctors and nurses knew that they were infected, but they kept mum about it,” said Ararat Ohanjanyan, the health minister for Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional government. “They may lie down in a corner to bring the fever down and then get up and continue to perform surgeries.”

“No one has the right now to step aside,” he added.

When the the latest escalation of fighting started, medical workers had no time or resources to deal with the outbreak, Ohanjanyan said.

“We didn’t have time to track down those infected while Stepanakert came under heavy shelling, and it allowed contagion to spread,” he said.

Ohanjanayan himself tested positive for the virus just over a week ago — and he, too, has continued working despite running a fever and fighting pneumonia.

In the past week, the shelling of Stepanakert has become less intense, and ambulance crews have finally been able to visit shelters and basements to track down the sick, Ohanjanyan said, adding that regular testing and isolation of the infected has resumed.

Patients in the most serious condition have been sent to Armenia, while others have been admitted to hospitals or received treatment at their homes in the region.

But Ohanjanyan said authorities still don’t have a good handle on how many people are infected.

Armenia, which supports the separatist region via a land corridor, has also seen a sharp increase in cases over the past weeks. The seven-day rolling average of daily new infections has nearly tripled since early October to 44 per 100,000 people on Oct. 20.

As Nagorno-Karabakh’s medical system faced a massive challenge, regular

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Olivia Newton-John talks new foundation and shares advice to women fighting breast cancer

Olivia Newton-John continually uses her platform to advocate for cancer research and now she is taking it a step further with the launch of her new foundation.

The four-time Grammy Award-winning singer and actress, who is currently battling breast cancer for the third time, launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation this month to fund research for treatments and therapies to cure cancer.

The star was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and again in 2013. She revealed in 2018 that the disease returned and metastasized to her spine.

In a recent interview with “Good Morning America,” the actress, 72, revealed she is “feeling really good” and spoke about what led her to launch this new charity.

“I feel really positive and very excited about bringing this foundation and a lot of knowledge to people, and funding research to find out lots of answers — to find kinder treatments for cancer,” she shared.

“The inspiration has been a long one because I’ve been on this cancer journey for 28 years,” she added. “I’m a thriver of three times going through this process.”

MORE: Olivia Newton-John gives optimistic update on breast cancer diagnosis

Having gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she said she now is interested in funding treatments that aren’t as taxing to the body. “I’ve always thought, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create kinder therapies that help boost the body’s immune system instead of knocking us down?'” she said.

PHOTO: Olivia Newton-John is photographed at her California home. (ONJ Foundation)
PHOTO: Olivia Newton-John is photographed at her California home. (ONJ Foundation)

Newton-John is an outspoken advocate for plant medicine and says that’s largely due to the influence of her husband, John Easterling. She affectionately calls him “Amazon John” because he spent several years in the Amazon rain forest learning about this type of medicine.

“I’m very lucky that I have him in my corner, and teaching me about the plants and the herbs,” she said. “He grows cannabis for me and I take tinctures that have helped me greatly.”

Ongoing efforts are being made to research what role cannabis may play in the future. “While some like Newton-John find relief of cancer-related pain and nausea from cannabis, it has not clinically proven to be the best choice,” according to health expert Dr. Imran Ali, a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Newton-John says she believes there is a significant lack of progress in research for these treatments.

“There are lots of ideas on how we can help people with cancer and treat cancer, but there’s been no real science behind the studies,” she explained. “So the idea is to raise money to fund the research on the other kinds of things that are kinder, including a lot of plant medicine.”

Newton-John is dedicating the foundation to all forms of cancer treatments — not just breast cancer research — because she dreams of one day “realizing a world beyond cancer.”

“That’s everything that drives me forward,” she said. “To think that we could help people to

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