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Atilis Gym In New Jersey Offering Free Membership To Customers Who Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine Despite Officials Urging Residents To Get Vaccinated

BELLMAWR (CBS) -- A New Jersey gym that has received backlash throughout the coronavirus pandemic is offering a freebie to anyone who does not receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Atilis Gym, in Bellmawr, initially made headlines last year when they repeatedly defied Gov. Phil Murphy's coronavirus shutdown order.

Gym owner Ian Smith posted on Twitter that Atilis Gym would be offering free memberships to anyone who doesn't get the coronavirus vaccine after hearing about Krispy Kreme's decision to give free doughnuts to anyone who receives the shots.

"In light of Krispy Kreme giving free donuts for receiving the CVD [sic] shot, here at The Atilis Gym we are giving out free memberships to all who don't get vaccinated," Smith tweeted. "We believe in health - the real way - exercise, good diet, plenty of vitamin D, Zinc and an environment to destress."

The gym opened its doors in May 2020, starting a legal battle over whether Murphy's order for nonessential businesses to remain closed was constitutional. Atilis Gym was fined more than $130,000 last year for repeatedly defying Gov. Murphy's COVID-19 closure orders. has reached out to Ian Smith for comment but has not heard back yet.

More than half a million Americans have died from the COVID-19 virus since the pandemic began.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that about 85 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 46 million are fully vaccinated. The medical community and government officials are urging the public to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

However, despite the vaccination progress, there is a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the tri-state area with New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware recording an increase in cases.

New Jersey now has the third-highest positivity rate nationwide, and hospitalizations have topped 2,000 for the first time in a month.

Officials blame variants and virus fatigue. People aren't being as careful with masks and distancing, and while vaccinations are increasing, they haven't been given to enough people to stop the uptick in COVID cases.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he would hold off on lifting more restrictions until it's clear case counts are moving in the right direction.

There are three vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The FDA found no serious safety problems with any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, but they can cause mild side effects like pain in the arm, headache and fatigue, similar to other vaccines.

"My message is, get whatever shot you can get," Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert with Emory University, said.

del Rio, who led the early COVID vaccine trials in the U.S., says all three options work to reduce your chance of getting severe symptoms, hospitalizations and death.

Pfizer and Modern's vaccines are about 95% effective and J&J's reports 85% effectiveness against severe disease. But unlike Moderna and Pfizer, J&J's vaccine has also been studied against newer strains and only requires one dose.

"It looks pretty good against the U.K. variant," del Rio said.

In addition to vaccinating adults, CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said getting kids vaccinated is critical to ending the pandemic.

"We have to do everything we can to get to herd immunity and, given that 25-percent of the United States is under the age of 21, this is going to have to include children," he said.

Moderna's adult vaccine trial had 30,000 people. Agus said Moderna's smaller trial for children only needs to answer two questions.

"Is it safe? Period. And do they mount effective immune responses? Period. And those are very easy to do with smaller numbers of children," he said.

Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since their January peak that followed the winter holidays. But public health officials warned that those gains may be stalling as more variants take root in the U.S.

"We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said.

"I'm beginning to see a sense of complacency," del Rio said. "I worry about that, so I tell people we are in a race between variants and vaccines, and we have to hang on there a little bit longer because if not, the variants are going to take over."

Check out's COVID-19 vaccine guide for details on where and when you can get vaccinated.

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