Athletes, priests and politicians: 9 public figures who didn’t take the coronavirus seriously and then got infected themselves

Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro adjusts his protective face mask at a press statement during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil, March 20, 2020. Picture taken March 20, 2020.
  • Some political figures, athletes, and celebrities didn't take the COVID-19 pandemic threat seriously, refusing to wear face masks or publicly joked about the virus.
  • But despite dismissing claims about the threat of the virus, they ended up getting it themselves.
  • Scroll down to read about the 9 different public figures who didn't take COVID-19 seriously, and then got it themselves. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, some politicians, athletes, and celebrities either didn't take COVID-19 seriously, dismissed it, or even blamed it on gay people.

They refused to wear face masks, joked about the virus, or threw large parties despite health safety restrictions. But it was the infection that had the last laugh, and several of the high profile doubters, deniers, and anti-maskers ended up getting ill.

Here are nine public figures who tested positive for COVID-19 after they didn't take its threat seriously or even denied it.

1. Tennis player Novak Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 after hosting a controversial tennis tournament in June.
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Novak Djokovic attends a press conference during an opening program of the Adria Tour, a charity exhibition hosted by Novak Djokovic Foundation, on June 12, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.

Novak Djokovic and his wife announced they tested positive for COVID-19 on June 23, shortly after hosting a controversial tennis tournament in eastern Europe.

The event, which Djokovic organized and involved several other professional players, was mostly void of any coronavirus restrictions.

Social distancing was not enforced in the stands, face masks were rare, and players mingled freely, regularly exchanging hugs and handshakes.

Besides Djokovic and his wife, two coaches and at least three prominent players also tested positive for the virus.

Indeed, Djokovic revealed that he does not believe in vaccines in April and would be reluctant to take one for COVID-19.

"Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel," the world's top-ranked male tennis player said, according to The Guardian.

"I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don't know," he added.

In his autobiographical cookbook "Serve To Win," Djokovic previously expressed his faith in the form of alternative medicine known as "applied kinesiology."

2. Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who had been skeptical about wearing masks, died after contracting the virus.
Herman Cain, CEO, The New Voice, speaks during Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority event in Washington.
Herman Cain, CEO, The New Voice, speaks during Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority event in Washington.

The former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain died on July 30 after he was hospitalized with COVID-19. He was 74 years old.

The day before Cain was hospitalized, he tweeted in support of the Trump campaign's decision not to require masks at an Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore.

Cain said in a now-deleted tweet: "Masks will not be mandatory for the event, which will be attended by President Trump. PEOPLE ARE FED UP!" 

Cain suggested that vaccine skepticism was justified in another tweet because the government and the media had "incinerated their credibility." 

It is not clear how Cain contracted the virus. 

3. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who repeatedly belittled the threat of coronavirus, tested positive for the virus on July 8.
Jair bolsonaro mask brazil
Jair Bolsonaro removed his mask after announcing he had tested positive for coronavirus in a TV broadcast, on July 8, 2020.

From the onset of the pandemic, Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro downplayed risks of what he called the "little flu," according to the BBC.

Bolsonaro opposed local lockdowns, accused the media of spreading panic, and continuously railed against "dictatorial" measures, such as wearing face coverings.  

Before testing positive for the virus on July 8, the Brazilian president attended several public events without a mask on and was shaking hands and hugging supporters.

Bolsonaro said he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria medication that was also championed by President Donald Trump. The drug has not been proven to be effective against the virus.

Brazil has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases and second-highest deaths in the world, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University.


4. Leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Filaret, tested positive for COVID-19 after saying the virus was God's punishment for gay marriage.
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The honorable patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Filaret, after a meeting of the Synod in Kiev, Ukraine on Friday, May 24, 2019.

Patriarch Filaret, who leads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, tested positive for COVID-19 on September 8.

The religious leader sparked outrage in March after he told a Ukrainian TV channel that the coronavirus was God's punishment for the "sinfulness of humanity; first of all, I mean same-sex marriage," according to the Independent.

The 91-year-old discovered he had COVID-19 during planned testing and is said to have "satisfactory" health, the Independent reported.

5. Rep. Louie Goh­mert had been walking the halls of the US Capitol without a mask on before he tested positive for the virus.
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Rep. Louie Gohmert waits to speak during the markup of the articles of impeachment on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 12, 2019.

US Congressman Rep. Louie Goh­mert tested positive for the coronavirus on July 29 after refusing to wear a mask in the Capitol.

Gohmert later suggested that he might have contracted the disease because he was wearing a face covering.

"I can't help but think that if I hadn't been wearing a mask so much in the last 10 days or so, I really wonder if I would have gotten it," he said, according to The Daily Beast.

Following his positive test result, the congressman reportedly didn't isolate immediately and returned to his office instead because he wanted to inform his staffers about his diagnosis in person.

Goh­mert said that he had used the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat his illness.

6. Similarly, GOP Rep. Tom Rice also contracted the virus after refusing to wear a face mask.
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Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., listens during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on President Trump's budget proposals for the fiscal year 2018 on May 24, 2017.

Rep. Tom Rice, who refused to wear a face-covering on the House floor, became the first lawmaker to report contracting the coronavirus.

Rice later said that he had no regrets about not wearing a mask in the Capitol.

"My understanding is that a mask doesn't really protect you as much as it protects other people," Mr. Rice said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"I don't think it would have made much of a difference. That is, if I caught it on the House floor...I doubt that had anything to do with it," he added.

7. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in March that people would be "pleased to know" that the virus would not stop him greeting hospital patients with a handshake. He tested positive two weeks later.
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on July 13, 2020 in London, England.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he tested positive for the coronavirus on March 27 and was later admitted to hospital.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the prime minister held a press conference in which he said he had visited coronavirus patients in a hospital and that people would be "pleased to know" that the virus had not stopped him from shaking their hands. 

The British government has been accused of acting too slowly in its initial response to the pandemic.

In April, one senior cabinet minister said that Johnson had missed five consecutive emergency briefings in the buildup to the coronavirus crisis despite warnings issued in January and repeated in February.


8. Usain Bolt tested positive for the virus a few days after throwing a big party for his 34th birthday.
Usain Bolt
Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt poses during a photo session as he launches a new brand of electric scooters named "Bolt" in Paris, on May 15, 2019.

The world's fastest man Usain Bolt tested positive for COVID-19 on August 25, a few days after throwing a big party for his 34th birthday.

Videos and pictures on social media from the party showed Bolt dancing in a big crowd of people, most of whom were not wearing masks or social distancing. 

9. Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert joked about the virus at a press conference before becoming the first NBC player to test positive.
Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz reacts after their loss to the Denver Nuggets during the 2020 NBA Playoffs on September 1, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Four months ago, the NBA season was suddenly suspended after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive for COVID-19.

Days before his diagnosis, Gobert had joked about the virus and at a press conference, touched every microphone and recorder in front of him.

Later, the French basketball player released a public apology on Instagram in which he wrote: "I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis ... mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment."

"The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse," he added. 

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