July 16, 2024


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Kristy Swanson, Joe Rogan, and Other COVID-19 Skeptics Who Contracted the Virus

Michael S. Shwartz/Getty Images

Michael S. Shwartz/Getty Images

Conspiracy theories have become as common and dependable as dirt — so it’s no surprise that many cropped up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some insist the coronavirus is a media-invented hoax. Others acknowledge it exists but say its seriousness is inflated. Still others object to government-imposed measures to curb the outbreak. Here are some influential folks who flouted COVID-19 restrictions and precautions and tested positive — including a noted actor who was recently rushed to the hospital after she made several critical comments on COVID-19 vaccines.

Related: These Companies Are Requiring Employees to Get Vaccinated

Kristy Swanson at GalaxyCon Raleigh in 2019

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Actor Kristy Swanson is being treated at a New Jersey hospital for pneumonia stemming from COVID-19, reports The New York Times. Best known for her lead role in the 1992 film “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a cult classic that inspired a TV series by the same name, Swanson has been a vocal critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, and other COVID-19 vaccine backers. “They want to mandate vaccines so they can make mo-money,” she has said on Twitter.

Related: How Does Your State’s COVID Vaccine Rollout Stack Up?

Denver Bible Church

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Denver-based pastor and conservative radio host Bob Enyart, who successfully sued the state of Colorado so the congregants of his church would be exempt from mask mandates, died in September after testing positive for COVID-19. He rose to infamy in the 1990s when he read the obituaries of AIDS victims on his show while playing “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. More recently, he opposed the COVID-19 vaccine on the debunked grounds that they were developed using aborted fetal cells, calling for a boycott on his website. “Bob Enyart was one of the smartest, and without question the wisest person I’ve known,” his radio co-host, Fred Williams, posted on Facebook. “I’m sure Jesus has an extra special place for him in heaven.”

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Michael S. Shwartz/Getty Images

Michael S. Shwartz/Getty Images

Joe Rogan, the comedian and host of the podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, tested positive for COVID-19 in late August. Rogan, who recently signed an estimated $100 million deal with Spotify to exclusively carry his podcast, said he had fatigue, fever, and sweats after returning home from performing in Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale. In an Instagram video, he described being treated with ivermectin, the animal deworming drug widely discredited as a COVID-19 treatment by the FDA, as well as monoclonal antibodies, steroids, and a vitamin drip. Rogan was widely panned for claiming young, healthy people didn’t “have to worry” about the virus, spurring the 54-year-old comedian to backpedal on his comments. “I’m not an anti-vaxx person,” he said on his podcast. “I said I believe they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated. I just said that if you’re a young, healthy person that you don’t need it.”

Related: Companies That Have Actually Benefitted from the Pandemic

Talk show radio host Phil Valentine interview on the Rich Redmond show in 2019

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While not a COVID-19 denier, the Nashville-based conservative radio host initially was unworried by the disease, taking to his blog to write, “What are my odds of getting COVID? They’re pretty low. What are my odds of dying from COVID if I do get it? Probably way less than one percent.” In July, Valentine announced on Facebook that he had the virus, but assured fans he’d be back on the air in a day or two. Valentine died from complications caused by COVID-19 in August at age 61.

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

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The Catholic cardinal was an outspoken critic of mandatory vaccinations and said they might be used as a method to implant microchips in people, a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked. Burke said that the best weapon for fighting the virus was Jesus Christ. In August, it was revealed that the 73-year-old had contracted the virus. He was later sedated and put on a ventilator.

A Covid-19 restriction signs hang outside of H-E-B supermarket on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. The popular Texas supermarket chain will not require customers to wear masks when the statewide mask mandate ends on March 10, 2021.

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In July, the Texas Republican reposted a message on Facebook implying that vaccines don’t work, after earlier taking to the forum to applaud a mask-burning party and comparing mask mandates to Nazism. Two days later, Apley, a Dickinson City Council member and a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to a hospital with “pneumonia-like symptoms.” He was later sedated and put on a ventilator. He died of COVID-19 at age 45.

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A former host on conservative news and opinion network Newsmax and a Florida radio host, Farrel hadn’t been shy expressing his opinions about the coronavirus, calling vaccines “bogus bull shid” and writing on Facebook that Dr. Anthony Fauci was a “power tripping, lying freak.” He was hospitalized and died of complications from COVID-19 in August at age 65.

Ted Nugent speaks to attendees of the VIP preview of 'The Ted Nugent Guns, Guitars & Hot Rod Cars' auction presented by Burley Auction House at Tucker Hall on March 26, 2021 in Waco, Texas.

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Gonzo rocker and arch-conservative Ted Nugent announced via a Facebook Live video in April that he had tested positive for the virus that he’d repeatedly called a scam and “not a real pandemic.” Despite his illness — which the former rock star said made him feel like he “was dying” and that he could “hardly crawl out of bed the last few days” — Nugent has continued to promote false anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Melania and Donald Trump

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There could be no coronavirus victim simultaneously more surprising and inevitable than President Donald Trump. The president spent several months denying the existence and impact of the coronavirus and even resisted wearing a mask to guard against infection, yet seemed unaffected by it — including politically, when reporter Bob Woodward revealed recorded conversations in which Trump admitted understanding the severity of the disease but hiding it from the public.

This tactic was upended in October 2020, after the U.S. COVID-19 death toll had passed 200,000 and Trump adviser Hope Hicks was revealed to have caught the virus. Two hours later, Trump tweeted that he and wife Melania Trump had tested positive as well.

Related: Companies That Have Filed for Bankruptcy Since the Pandemic Began — and Which Ones Could Be Next

Herman Cain

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Cain, whose team announced in early July 2020 that he was being hospitalized with COVID-19, died of the disease July 30 at the age of 74. In late June, the former president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association attended an Oklahoma rally for President Donald Trump, where it was announced hours before the event that six staffers and two Secret Service officers had tested positive for the coronavirus. Cain posted photos of himself at the rally without a mask and posited on social media that gubernatorial mask mandates set “aside constitutional government,” although he noted in a separate post that masks serve “as a useful layer of protection against the contagion.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert

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Gohmert, a Texas Republican, tested positive for the coronavirus during a pre-flight screening in July 2020. The eight-term congressman was regularly seen without a mask and reportedly discouraged his staff from wearing them. Gohmert said at the time he didn’t “have any of the symptoms that are listed as part of COVID-19,” and referred to the disease with what many consider an ethnic slur. During an interview with a Texas news station, Gohmert appeared to suggest that he contracted the coronavirus as a result of wearing a mask.

National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien

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With a positive COVID-19 test result announced in late July 2020, O’Brien became the highest ranking member of the Trump administration at the time confirmed to have the virus. Multiple photos of O’Brien on a Paris trip showed him — maskless — in close proximity with others.

Related: Pandemic Phrases We Never Thought We’d Use Every Day

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt

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The middle America governor posted a photo of himself with his family at a “packed” restaurant amid warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid large gatherings — and then contracted the virus. His diagnosis was announced in mid-July 2020. Stitt did not wear a mask or attempt to socially distance at President Trump’s infamous Tulsa rally in late June, at least while speaking to reporters.

Photo of Kimberly Guilfoyle taken at photo shoot for Metropolitan Magazine

Photo of Kimberly Guilfoyle taken at photo shoot for Metropolitan Magazine

Trump campaign staffer — and girlfriend of the president’s son Donald Jr. — tested positive in early July 2020, less than two weeks after it was reported she attended a “maskless” Hamptons party, not to mention campaign events in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Montana.

Chuck Woolery

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While Woolery himself has not tested positive for the virus, his son did — and it made him change his tune pretty quickly. In July 2020, Woolery tweeted, “Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors … I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back … I’m sick of it.” The very next day, before deleting his Twitter account, Woolery followed up with: “To further clarify and add perspective, COVID-19 is real and it is here. My son tested positive for the virus, and I feel for … those suffering and especially for those who have lost loved ones.”

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro

After consistently understating the seriousness of the virus that has ravaged Brazil, Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 in early July 2020. Before his diagnosis, the Brazilian president was often seen without a mask and ignoring social distancing guidelines.

Tennis Player Novak Djokovic

Tennis Player Novak Djokovic

Djokovic, the world No.1 ranked men’s tennis player, tested positive in June 2020 after organizing an exhibition tournament in the Balkans that did next to nothing to address coronavirus concerns. In addition to Djokovic and his wife, at least two coaches and three other players tested positive after the event. Prior to the hubbub, the tennis player had raised eyebrows for saying he wouldn’t be vaccinated against the virus and for other questionable health claims, including a statement in May in which he claimed that “molecules in the water react to our emotions.”

Belgian Prince Joachim

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This royal from Belgium — and nephew of the nation’s King Philippe — broke Spain’s quarantine rules by failing to follow a 14-day period of isolation in May 2020. Two days after arriving, the prince attended a party at which there were nearly 30 other people. In addition to a COVID-19 diagnosis, the royal was fined about $11,000 and later apologized for his actions.

White House Staffer Katie Miller

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As former Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Miller — who’s also former presidential aide Stephen Miller’s wife — often tweeted misleading messages from Pence about the pandemic. One example: A June 2020 post in which she reiterated a Pence quote that claimed, “The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different.” Miller tested positive for the virus in early May 2020.

Doja Cat

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In March 2020, American rapper Doja Cat tweeted insults at people afraid of catching the virus and declared that COVID-19 is “a flu … you just take some Mucinex and drink water and tea and sleep. That’s all you gotta do.” It was later revealed that she had contracted and recovered from the virus, which she blamed on a Postmates delivery.

Rudy Gobert

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The Utah Jazz player, the first in the NBA to receive such news, had to offer up some major mea culpas after his March diagnosis last year. Just two days earlier, he’d attended a press conference and jokingly touched many of the reporters’ microphones and recorders. He subsequently apologized and donated $500,000 to support those affected by the pandemic.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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Johnson was diagnosed in late March 2020, and subsequently hospitalized in the ICU, but that illness has done little to guard him against critics’ charges that his virus response is “stoking a culture war,” “killing Britons,” and that he’s “lost public trust.” His leadership during the pandemic was also severely reprimanded by some of the country’s top scientists, who say the country’s death toll could have been cut by as much as 50% had Johnson acted sooner.

Senator Rand Paul

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The Washington Post reported that after Paul was tested in March 2020, he did not attempt to self-quarantine in the six days it took to get the results — which were positive. He was, noted the paper, “continuing to cast votes on the Senate floor, delivering a speech lambasting a coronavirus aid bill, and meeting with other GOP senators in strategy sessions that defied federal advisories warning against gatherings of more than 10 people.”

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