Sarah Palin, Novak Djokovic, and Other Skeptics Who Contracted COVID

Novak Djokovic

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Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA)

Pandemic Skeptics

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired no shortage of commentary. Some critics have insisted the coronavirus is a media-invented hoax. Others acknowledge it exists but say its seriousness is inflated. Still others object to measures imposed to curb the outbreak, including masks, vaccines, and vaccine mandates. Here are some influential folks who flouted COVID-19 restrictions and precautions and tested positive, including Sarah Palin, who just tested positive for the virus for the second time in less than a year.

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

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA)

Sarah Palin

Just ahead of her defamation trial against The New York Times, Sarah Palin has tested positive for COVID-19. This is the former Republican vice presidential nominee's second time contracting the virus — the first was in March 2021. Still, she recently reiterated that she will not be getting inoculated, stating in December that she would get the vaccine "over my dead body." Palin has sued the Times over a 2017 editorial that linked an image from her political action committee to the 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords, then an Arizona congresswoman. 

Related: 21 Community College Students Who Went on to Make Millions

Novak Djokovic at the Wimbledon 2017
Novak Djokovic at the Wimbledon 2017 by Charles Ng (CC BY)

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic, the world No. 1-ranked men's tennis player, first 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, he had raised eyebrows for saying he wouldn't be vaccinated and for other questionable claims, including a statement in which he said that "molecules in the water react to our emotions." Of course, Djokovic is back in the news again in 2022 after Australia revoked his visa ahead of the Australian Open. All players were supposed to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but unvaccinated Djokovic sought a medical exemption, saying he'd had the virus a second time, in December 2021. Djokovic was ultimately deported before the competition.  

Related: How the Rich and Famous Party During the Pandemic

Glenn Beck
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Glenn Beck

Famously fiery conservative and former Fox News host Glenn Beck has acknowledged that he has COVID-19 for the second time, saying his current infection is "disturbing" because it's attacking his lungs. Beck is unvaccinated, having previously said that his initial infection made him immune to the virus. "I'm on ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine — what is it, Fluvoxin?" he recently said on Mark Levin's radio show. "I'm on a bunch of different ... I mean, my doctors are hitting it really hard." None of those treatments are FDA-approved for the treatment of COVID-19.

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Marcus Lamb
Daystar Television Network

Marcus Lamb

Lamb, CEO of the conservative Christian Daystar Television Network, was an outspoken critic of the vaccine. The network had dubbed COVID-19 a satanic attack, but had also loudly criticized vaccines, instead promoting unfounded treatments for the disease. After Lamb became ill, his wife, Joni, took to the network's daily program to say, “He 100% believed in everything we talk about here on Daystar, things that help so many people around the world with early protocol treatments for COVID. We still stand by those, obviously.” Lamb died in November 2021, several weeks after contracting the virus, at age 64.

Aaron Rodgers
Getty Images/ Christian Petersen / Staff

Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, faced criticism after claiming he was "immunized" from the coronavirus in August. He recently said he meant he had taken a homeopathic "immunization protocol," not that he'd been vaccinated. "I believe strongly in bodily autonomy, and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture where a crazed group of individuals who say you have to do something," he recently said during an interview on Sirius XM. Rodgers has also taken ivermectin, an animal dewormer that the FDA has warned against as a COVID-19 treatment. 

Related: Big Names That Changed to Avoid Being Canceled

Kristy Swanson
Kristy Swanson by Super Festivals (CC BY)

Kristy Swanson

Actor Kristy Swanson was recently 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

Denver Bible Church
© 2021 Google

Bob Enyart

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."

Joe Rogan
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Joe Rogan

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
Talk show radio host Phil Valentine by The Rich Redmond Show (CC BY)

Phil Valentine

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
Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke by Pufui Pc Pifpef I (CC BY-SA)

Raymond Leo Burke

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 sign in Texas
Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

H. Scott Apley

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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Dick Farrel

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
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Ted Nugent

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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President Donald Trump

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. 

Herman Cain
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Herman Cain

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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Louie Gohmert

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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Robert O'Brien

With a positive COVID-19 test result announced in late July 2020, then- National Security Adviser 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
Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Stitt

The Oklahoma 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 by Jill Lotenberg (CC BY-SA)

Kimberly Guilfoyle

Trump campaign staffer — and girlfriend of the former 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. 

Pronunciamento do Presidente da República, Jair Bolsonaro em Rede Nacional de Rádio e Televisão
Pronunciamento do Presidente da República, Jair Bolsonaro em Rede Nacional de Rádio e Televisão by Palácio do Planalto (CC BY)

Jair Bolsonaro

After consistently understating the seriousness of the virus that has ravaged Brazil, Jair 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. 

Belgian Prince Joachim
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Belgian Prince Joachim

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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Katie Miller

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
Frazer Harrison/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images North America

Doja Cat

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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Rudy Gobert

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
Ben Shread/Cabinet Office

Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris 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
Wikimedia Commons

Rand Paul

The Washington Post reported that after Sen. Rand 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."