News & Politics

True or Disinformation: Are COVID Patients Really in Denial Right Before They Die?

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

A nurse in the ICU from South Dakota posted a series of tweets that quickly went viral.

Sounds horrible. The nurse, Jodi Doering, appeared on CNN and told her story. From there, members of Congress, and celebrities tweeted out support and she got nice write-ups in the Washington Post and The Daily Beast.

But is it true?

First, she’s an angel for doing what she does. It can’t get much more difficult than treating people suffering from a potentially fatal disease. But there’s reason to believe that the South Dakota ICU nurse may be exaggerating a little when it comes to all these Trump-loving patients who deny they’re dying of something the president told them wasn’t that dangerous.

“The reason I tweeted what I did is that it wasn’t one particular patient,” the nurse said. “It’s just a culmination of so many people, and their last, dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening, it’s not real.’ And when they should be spending time FaceTime-ing their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred, and it just made me really sad.”

“This is the cost of disinformation,” wrote Atul Gawande, a New Yorker contributor and member of Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force. Senator Elizabeth Warren called it “heartbreaking.”

A reporter for Wired decided to check into her story. What he found condemns mainstream media as much as it makes a liar out of Jodi Doering.

I called a number of hospitals in the same part of South Dakota to ask emergency room nurses if they’d noticed the same, disturbing phenomenon. At Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital, about 20 minutes from Doering’s hometown of Woonsocket, an ER nurse told me, “I have not had that experience here.” At my request, Kim Rieger, the VP for communications and marketing at Huron Regional Medical Center, one of the four medical facilities where Doering works, spoke with several nurses at Huron to get their reactions to the CNN interview. None said they’d interacted with Covid patients who denied having the disease. “Most patients are grateful, and thankful for our help,” one told her. “I have not experienced this, nor have I been told of this experience, ever,” another said.

Further, Caleb Gregory tweeted out the astonishing number of deaths in Sanborn County where Doering lives.

This doesn’t mean that Doering didn’t experience the denial. It means she was lying about “so many people, and their last, dying words” being a denial of the truth. For what reason, no one except Doering can say.

Doering is not the first person to start a viral hoax about COVID denialism. In July, there were reports of “COVID parties” that turned out to be bogus. Another widely shared story was about a nurse telling of a man dying of COVID who claims he went to a COVID Party and thought the virus was a “hoax.” That too proved to be bogus.

The Wired reporter, David Zweig, condemns the state of journalism where the word of a completely unknown individual is taken as gospel by unskeptical journalists.

Alisyn Camerota, the CNN anchor who conducted the interview, is an Emmy Award–winning journalist. Tracy Connor, who covered the story for the Daily Beast, is that publication’s executive editor. They and others simply repeated Doering’s anecdotes, framed as an astounding embodiment of red-state denialism. The Washington Post article quotes at length from Doering’s tweets and TV interview, and claims—without providing any further evidence—that Covid patients seen by other health care workers “are reluctant to acknowledge that they have been infected with a virus that President Trump has said will simply disappear.” Similar write-ups appeared in the Daily Beast and HuffPost.

“The cost of disinformation” is not just in denial of the existence of the virus. It’s also in eagerly accepting lies about the political and ideological opposition and spreading them far and wide, hoping they’re true but not minding if they’re not.

Party-Poopers at CDC Say We Can’t Drink, Sing, or Play Loud Music at Parties During Holidays