Story at a glance
- After attending a party meant to test whether COVID-19 was a real disease or “a hoax,” a guest died.
- Public health officials continue to warn of the dangers of coronavirus, but misinformation abounds.
- Recent polls show that Americans’ different attitudes towards the pandemic are reflected in political affiliation.
A 30-year-old coronavirus patient in San Antonio died on Friday after attending a “COVID party,” or a party held as an experiment by someone diagnosed with COVID-19 to see whether any guests then become infected, according to a Texas hospital.
Parties have become major sites of coronavirus spread across the United States as social distancing measures are loosened. In college towns and other areas, cases are trending younger and connected back to social gatherings. But unlike the youth who are driven by a belief in their invincibility against COVID-19, these specific partygoers believed that the disease itself was no threat.
“Just before the patient died, they looked at their nurse and said ‘I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not,’” Jane Appleby, the chief medical officer at Methodist hospital in San Antonio, told a local news outlet.
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Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in San Antonio and other parts of Texas, which was one of the first states to reopen despite the ongoing pandemic. But a recent survey shows that as more of their neighbors become infected, a majority of Texans support another lockdown.
“It doesn’t discriminate and none of us are invincible,” Appleby told the local NBC News affiliate. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, and we’re just trying to share some real-world examples to help our community realize that this virus is very serious and can spread easily.”
Despite the warnings issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other top public health officials, some Americans still doubt the dangers of the coronavirus and even its existence. Political figures including the former Texas Rep. Ron Paul have called the pandemic a “hoax” and turned public health into a partisan issue.
President Trump and his administration have downplayed the risk of the coronavirus since the beginning of this year. During a rally in South Carolina this February, President Trump accused Democrats of politicizing the pandemic, saying their criticism was “their new hoax.” While he has not called the disease or the pandemic itself a hoax, some of his supporters’ beliefs reflect his attitude.
In April, nearly 3 out of every 10 Americans believed COVID-19 was made in a lab, either intentionally or accidentally, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were more likely to believe this and think that people were overreacting to the outbreak, another poll found, rather than not taking it seriously enough.
While scientists say that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, most likely originated in bats found in China, conspiracy theories have persisted. In May, posts circulating on Facebook falsely claimed that COVID-19 is fake and that the pandemic is a cover for the deployment of 5G network towers and microchipping of American citizens. While Facebook and other social media platforms have responded by including warnings on such posts or even removing them, the continued spread of coronavirus shows that Americans continue to ignore the reality of the pandemic at their own risk.
There have been stories about people holding “coronavirus parties” since the beginning of the outbreak, including in places like Alabama and Washington state, where the state’s health department issued a warning against such behavior in early May.
But some experts have warned to digest such instances with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Urban folklorist Benjamin Radford recently told Rolling Stone stories of coronavirus parties are likely untrue.
“They’re a variation of older disease urban legends such as the ‘bug chaser’ stories about people trying to get AIDS,” Radford told Rolling Stone referring to media stories that began circulating early on during the AIDS epidemic.
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