The CEO of Life Time gyms, Bahram Akradi, was on CNBC today defending his company’s decision to soon reopen its gyms in states that are lifting lockdowns, such as Georgia. It feels like the kind of clip that will be played in future documentaries about how poorly we handled the coronavirus crisis.
At one point in the new CNBC interview, Akradi touts a Life Time app that tells you whether you might have covid-19. He later says that covid-19 can be fought with a “few hundred dollars’ worth of drugs,” something that’s simply not true.
“It’s already clear that much more people are already infected with this virus,” Akradi told CNBC journalist Sara Eisen. “The denominator has been reported grossly wrong, and therefore we have created such incredible fear amongst America that this is going to hurt everything.”
Akradi appears to be saying that there’s an undercount of people who’ve contracted covid-19, and therefore that the virus is less deadly than we thought. While it’s true that there are probably a number of people who have contracted this virus and never knew they had it because they didn’t develop symptoms, that’s not a logical argument for immediately opening up all businesses. If anything, it’s an argument that social distancing regulations must remain in place to protect people from getting the disease, which can be brutal even if you only get a “mild” case. Those who don’t have symptoms may not know they have it, and if they’re not social distancing, they can spread it throughout their communities.
“The fear is going to be the biggest part of the challenge for having the economy come back, and America is built on courage and freedom, and both of which are under assault right now,” Akradi said.
Eisen is visibly taken aback by Akradi’s arguments, noting that gyms seem like the last place that should be reopening at a time like this. But Akradi doubles down and seems to frame the fight against covid-19 as one of personal responsibility rather than collective action.
“Now we need to equip the consumer [to] learn how to fight this disease better on their own. How to improve their immune system, and how to use diagnostic check, which we’ve put on our app,” Akradi said. “You can ask four questions of yourself and find out if you have any symptoms. And if you have any symptoms, you need to act early.”
It’s certainly true that if you have symptoms of covid-19, such as shortness of breath, a fever, or a dry cough, you should seek medical attention. But saying “we have an app” doesn’t actually keep anyone safe when they’re visiting your gym. And as we’ve mentioned, not everyone who gets sick has symptoms and knows they’re at risk of spreading the virus to others.
Akradi is a member of President Donald Trump’s “Great American Economic Revival” advisory committee, which is supposedly advising the White House on when the country should be reopened.
“The ratio of people dying from the virus is 50-85 times less,” Akradi said, citing a recent study from Stanford researchers in the Bay Area. Again, this seems like an argument for keeping gyms closed, if there are so many asymptomatic cases out in the wild. People who aren’t showing symptoms are able to spread the virus, something that the governor of Georgia admitted he only learned about earlier this month.
“The people are going to get this virus over the next year or two—absolutely people are going to get this virus like they get other colds and flus,” Akradi said. “Our immune system is hugely capable of overcoming viruses and bacterias...so number one defense is our immune system.”
The problem, of course, is that this is a new coronavirus that humans have no immunity to, which is precisely why this pandemic is so difficult to contain. It doesn’t matter how strong your immune system is; you can still get knocked on your ass by covid-19, which is causing damage to organs in ways we don’t fully understand yet. People with underlying conditions are suffering the highest death counts, but the virus is also killing perfectly healthy people.
“We are actually breaking down people’s immune system by keeping them inside, letting them get depressed,” Akradi said, without citing any evidence. “Their businesses are going bad, depression is setting in, and that causes inflammation. Inflammation then gives the way to a virus to break into your cells.”
The U.S. is still discovering thousands of new covid-19 cases every day, even with most of the country in lockdown. There are over 835,000 cases and 45,950 deaths in the U.S. alone as of this afternoon. Akradi says that “the data should support the decision-making rather than the fear.” In his mind, that data supports reopening his gyms.
Perhaps the most bizarre moment in the interview occurs at roughly the 6:40 mark, when Akradi says that early in the crisis people were continually turned away from the hospital and then would wind up in the ICU.
“What we’ve done in the early stage, when we didn’t understand this, we went to hospitals, people were rejected five times, then they come back, when they have to go straight into ICU,” Akradi said. “Well, now, I think we can solve the problem with a few hundred dollars’ worth of drugs, rather than having them go to ICU. So this, over the next few weeks, more path will become clear on how we can have early attack on the virus when somebody’s infected.”
It’s not clear what “few hundred dollars’ worth of drugs” he might be talking about. Though scientists are hard at work evaluating potential treatments, there is no proven cure for covid-19, another thing that makes this virus so tricky to fight.
The entire interview, which is available on YouTube, is really something to behold. Again, it feels like the kind of thing that will be shown in future documentaries to explain just how idiotic some humans were during this period of history. Or, in the case of a millionaire like Akradi, how craven and irresponsible.