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‘Arrogant’ and ‘ashamed’: The coronavirus mea culpas from people who once thought it was no big deal

UPDATED: Fri., March 27, 2020

This Oct. 17, 2016, photo shows U.S. Rep. Don Young gesturing while speaking with a reporter after a debate in Anchorage, Alaska. Young is just one of numerous public figures who have walked back brazen comments downplaying the pandemic in recent days as the crisis becomes increasingly dire across the United States. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
This Oct. 17, 2016, photo shows U.S. Rep. Don Young gesturing while speaking with a reporter after a debate in Anchorage, Alaska. Young is just one of numerous public figures who have walked back brazen comments downplaying the pandemic in recent days as the crisis becomes increasingly dire across the United States. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
By Meagan Flynn The Washington Post

Speaking to a roomful of senior citizens on March 13, the same day President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said they should “go forth” with their daily activities and forget about staying inside. He called coronavirus “the beer virus” –“how do you like that?” – and said the pandemic was “blown out of proportion,” the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reported at the time.

Now, much like the celebrities and viral spring breakers who suggested the pandemic was no big deal, the 86-year-old congressman has changed his tune. The impact of COVID-19 is “very real, growing” and reshaping our daily lives, he said in a video message Thursday.

“Weeks ago, I did not truly grasp the severity of this crisis,” Young said, while urging everyone to stay home. “But clearly we are in the midst of an urgent public health emergency.”

Young is just one of numerous public figures who have walked back brazen comments downplaying the pandemic in recent days as the crisis becomes increasingly dire across the United States. Two weeks ago, a long time on a pandemic’s watch, about 1,600 cases of COVID-19 were reported across the country. Beaches were still packed, and bars were still serving.

Now, as the United States surpasses every nation including China and Italy in coronavirus infections, with more than 105,000 cases, apologies for unpopular hot takes and bad social-distancing behavior are pouring in.

Another came Thursday from Evangeline Lilly, the actress known for her roles as Kate in the TV series “Lost” and as the Wasp in Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” In an Instagram post March 16, Lilly said she was going about her everyday life like it was “#businessasusual,” resisting calls to stay home and arguing that “some people value their freedom over their lives.”

Fury quickly followed, especially after Lilly revealed that she lived with her father who was battling Stage 4 leukemia. So in another Instagram post Thursday, after days of silence, Lilly offered “my sincere and heartfelt apology for the insensitivity I showed in my previous post to the very real suffering and fear that has gripped the world through COVID19.” She said she realized that her silence about the true seriousness of the situation “sent a dismissive, arrogant and cryptic message.”

“When I wrote that post 10 days ago, I thought I was infusing calm into the hysteria,” she wrote. “I can see now that I was projecting my own fears into an already fearful and traumatic situation.”

Coronavirus apologies began in earnest most notably with NBA player Rudy Gobert, who purposely touched a bunch of press microphones in a pregame interview while mocking the coronavirus. Three days later, on March 12, he tested positive.

“I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously,” he wrote in his apology.

Not everyone got his message apparently.

Scores of spring-breakers swarmed the Florida coastline just a few days later, despite pleas from government officials to practice social distancing and to avoid large crowds. The now-infamous sunburned spring-breaker Brady Sluder recently apologized for partying in Miami and saying in a viral video on March 18: “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”

In an Instagram post on Sunday, he said he “can’t apologize enough to the people I’ve offended and the lives I’ve insulted,” while urging everyone to take health officials seriously.

“Don’t be arrogant and think you’re invincible like myself,” he wrote.

In a not-quite-so raucous trip, Jamie Otis, a reality TV star from “The Bachelor” and “Married at First Sight,” went on vacation to Sarasota, Florida, on March 12 while hunting for a winter home. But on Saturday, as she prepared to get on an airplane back to New Jersey, she said she realized she had made a big mistake.

“I assumed this whole covid 19 thing would kinda just blow over like the seasonal flu, but it’s A LOT more serious than I ever could have imagined,” she wrote on Instagram, describing trips to the beach she now regrets. “I want to send out a sincere apology to YOU [because] by me going out to ‘live as normal as possible’ I was risking YOU and YOUR FAMILY. I’m a registered nurse and I should know better. I’m ashamed of myself for this and I’m genuinely sorry.”

In other coronavirus mea culpas, local public officials have had to apologize for spreading misinformation, such as that COVID-19 stands for “Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease” or that blasting heat from a hair dryer into your nostrils could kill coronavirus. A Pennsylvania pastor has apologized for holding a massive church service. And landlords have even apologized for issuing eviction notices.

In his video message Thursday, Young, the Alaska congressman, urged people to listen to the directives from local and state governments.

“This pandemic is dangerous and is especially threatening our senior citizens, of which I am one, and those with underlying conditions,” he said. “I very strongly urge you to follow the CDC’s recommendations. Avoid large groups and continue to practice social distancing and proper hygiene protocols.”

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