Despite the number of individuals infected by the novel coronavirus and the increasing deaths as a result, individuals nationwide continue to dismiss the virus as a hoax. As the pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., stories of those who openly denied the virus only to be infected by it are increasing.
While some of these stories come from individuals who survived the virus, many of them follow the deaths of those who did not. The virus is far from over and these stories shed light on the importance of abiding by COVID-19 safety measures, including wearing a mask. In the list of those who denied the virus only to be infected is Tony Tenpenny, a Republican former Nashville Council Member who died Sunday.
An active Donald Trump supporter and anti-masker, Tenpenny represented the 16th Nashville Metro Council from 2011 to 2015. He ran for reelection again last year but lost to current Council Member Ginny Welsch. According to The Tennessean, he died after being hospitalized for more than a month and after being placed on a ventilator earlier this month.
"It is with a very heavy heart that I let you all know, Tony passed away yesterday. Please pray for me, our son Ira and family as we process this tragic loss," Robbie Tenpenny, his wife, said in a Sunday post on Facebook.
Prior to his diagnosis, Teneppy mocked COVID-19 and its severity openly on social media. On Facebook, he not only questioned the use of masks but shared articles criticizing safety measures and lockdowns in place by states in addition to other conspiracy theories calling the virus a political tactic.
More than a dozen posts can be traced back to his social media in which he spread misinformation about the virus, including a video from a Texas doctor who created outrageous theories about the virus and its connection to demons. In another notable post, he wrote, "the CDC and the WHO are pure lying (expletive)" and that those public health bodies are "not telling you the truth."
Some of the articles he shared, including one he shared in July on front-line workers, are marked as “partly false information” by Facebook. Many of his posts are now unavailable or hidden on the site.
Local officials, including the mayor and former colleagues, expressed their condolences on Twitter Sunday. "I'm saddened by this news. Tony and I very seldom voted with each other but we respected each other. Prayers and condolences go out to the Tenpenny family. We have to continue to take COVID seriously until herd immunity is achieved," Davidson County Juvenile Court Clerk Lonnell Matthews Jr said. Matthews served on the council with Tenpenny.
Others took Tenpenny’s death as an opportunity to express how important it is to follow safety measures and understand the severity of the virus. "The message to me is that Covid is no joke, it knows no boundary, and no matter what you might believe, it doesn’t care," Welsch said in a statement Monday. "Anyone can be felled by it. Not taking the precautions we know work to slow the spread is like playing Russian roulette. You are risking your life and the lives of those around you."
The coronavirus is real and deadly. Denying its severity and the consequences of it will not protect you from being infected. Health officials nationwide are urging individuals to social distance and abide by safety measures in place, including wearing a mask. Despite the Trump administration’s failure to address the virus, we must not fall victim to believing the virus is a “hoax.”
As of Sept. 21 more than 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been infected by the coronavirus and at least 199,600 have died as a result, according to The New York Times. As of this report, the country is at an average of 41,101 cases per day, an increase from weeks earlier.
[Editor’s note: The story was corrected to note Tenpenny served on the 16th Nashville Metro Council, not Congressional district]