An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
October 25th, 2022
Yes, Even ID Doctors Get COVID — Including Famous Ones
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, various public figures have contracted the disease.
Tom Hanks, way back in early March 2020, was arguably the first globally famous person in the world to test positive for the virus. The announcement came right as much of the world prepared to shut down. My friends and I were wrapping up what would be our last indoor poker game for over a year when the news broke.
“Tom Hanks and wife test positive for corona,” said my friend Scott, looking at his phone between hands. We all reflexively reached for the hand sanitizer I’d strategically placed beside each person’s chair. Hey, back then it was fomites — remember?
Hanks made the news public in a typically generous and optimistic way. He’s the nicest super-famous-rich person on the planet, isn’t he? And his COVID episode elicited sympathy, and hope for a quick recovery, for both him and his wife.
But he’s a beloved actor, and hardly the kind of person to bring out the meanies.
Because since then, in lockstep with a virus that has infected a massive proportion of the world’s population, we’ve had a veritable cavalcade of famous people come down with COVID.
Let’s see, off the top of my head — two presidents, one vice president, prime ministers, numerous other politicians, multiple actors, several radio and TV talk show hosts, athletes, rock stars. You name it.
Plus, Tony Fauci.
And now, my friend and former colleague, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. The announcement came just as we were finishing our first in-person meeting, IDWeek — which, as I predicted, was filled with unmasked work-related and social gatherings in conference rooms, hotel lobbies, and restaurants.
“This Marriott must have some special anti-infective power,” said one of my colleagues. “Seems when you leave the convention center and enter the lobby, you no longer need a mask.”
So why bring up the CDC director’s case of COVID? Because it has elicited one of my least favorite aspects of the pandemic since it started — the tendency for some people to gloat about another person’s illness, criticize that person, and to use it as a way of endorsing their particular stance on the disease.
Look, I made no secret about my opinion on how our former president handled the pandemic in the spring of 2020. But when he came down with COVID in the fall of that year, in the pre-vaccine era, and got pretty darn sick, I never wrote, or even said Good — he deserves it. Same goes for the parade of COVID-denialist radio talk show hosts, whose deaths struck me as both pathetic and tragic.
Frankly, it pained me to hear some friends and colleagues take this stance, and I shared my views with them at the time. You’re reveling in the illness and misery of others? Doesn’t that make you feel yucky?
Same happened with Dr. Fauci, and now Dr. Walensky — the negative reactions come from all around. Anti-vaxxers and libertarians on one side, COVID-zero and public health zealots on the other. Implication? You’re responsible for the mess we’re in; now this is your just desserts.
It’s painful to see and makes me so uncomfortable. Because the reality is that we’re all struggling to do our best with this tricky virus, which was only discovered in early 2020 — and hence leaves us reading a very new, and sometimes non-existent, playbook. There is no person whose call on policies or predictions could be 100% right, 100% of the time. Doesn’t matter how smart or famous you are.
So here’s a bold idea — how about we treat every person’s illness with the kindness and compassion we’d want when our friends, our family members, and we ourselves get sick?
It’s really not so hard to do, is it? After all, we did it with Tom Hanks.