Brian Lee Hitchens and his wife Erin both caught the deadly virus back in May, but, swayed by conspiracy theories on Facebook about 5G cellular networks and coronavirus being a ‘plandemic’ which was no more severe than the flu, neither initially sought medical help.
The couple were soon hospitalized, but while Brian eventually recovered, 46-year-old Erin, who has asthma, fell critically ill.
She died earlier this month from heart complications caused by COVID-19, after more than three months of battling the illness.
Speaking to the BBC, Brian said that he wishes he had ‘listened from the beginning’ about the severity and dangers of the virus, adding that he hoped his wife would forgive him.
‘This is a real virus that affects people differently. I can’t change the past. I can only live in today and make better choices for the future,’ Brian said.
‘She’s no longer suffering, but in peace. I go through times missing her, but I know she’s in a better place.’
Erin Hitchens, 46, died from COVID-19 last weekend. She and her husband Brian (left) believed the coronavirus was a hoax before being hospitalized with the illness in May
In a May Facebook post he said he felt the coronavirus pandemic was ‘blown out of proportion’
Brian said he nor Erin, who was a pastor, followed health guidance at the start of the pandemic because of the misinformation that they had been reading on social media.
The grieving husband continued to work as a driver for Uber and Lyft, as well as collecting his wife’s medicine without taking any safety precautions, ignoring social distancing rules and not wearing a mask.
The couple, Brian says, had not one firm belief about COVID-19. They veered between believing the virus was a ‘faux disaster’, linked to 5G technology, or a real, but incredibly mild illness.
Much of what they believed to understand about the virus at the times was ascertained from misinformation they’d stumbled across on Facebook.
‘We thought the government was using it to distract us,’ he told the BBC. ‘Or it was to do with 5G.’
Up until May, Brian Lee Hitchens said he didn’t fear coronavirus but in an interview from his hospital bed he has urged people to take it seriously
But when the couple fell ill in May, Brian took to Facebook to pen a lengthy explainer detailing that he and Erin had been misled by what they’d seen about the virus online.
‘Many people still think that the Coronavirus is a fake crisis which at one time I did too and not that I thought it wasn’t a real virus going around but at one time I felt that it was blown out of proportion and it wasn’t that serious [sic],’ he wrote on May 12.
‘We kept on watching the news and kept on hearing about the spreading of the Coronavirus and to be honest I didn’t really think nothing of it I still thought it was being blown out of proportion until about 4 and 1/2 weeks ago when I started to feel sick.’
He urged anyone who chooses to go out during the pandemic to ‘use wisdom and don’t be foolish like I was so the same thing won’t happen to you like it happened to me and my wife.’
Speaking to the BBC, Brian said that he ‘wished [he’d] listened from the beginning’ about the severity and dangers of the virus, adding that he hoped his wife would forgive him’
He previously said that he wasn’t scared of contracting the virus because of his faith in God
The couple first tried to battle the virus at home, but were eventually forced to go to the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center where they were both admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and treated.
‘I started feeling better within a few days but my wife got worse to the point where they sedated her and put her on the ventilator,’ he wrote. “As of today [May 12] my wife is still sedated and on the ventilator with no signs of improving.’
But, sadly, Erin never did recover.
In a bid to avoid any such similar tragedies, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all increased their efforts to censor misinformation and remove posts that spread falsehoods about the pandemic.
However, a June report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found hundreds of posts spreading misinformation about COVID-19 were left online, despite being reported.
Around 649 posts were reported to Facebook and Twitter, including false cures for the virus, anti-vaccination propaganda and conspiracy theories around 5G.
However, 90 percent of them remained visible online in the weeks afterwards without any disclaimers attached, the report suggested.
Erin, 46, died last week from heart complications caused by COVID-19, after more than three months of battling the illness
Doctors and experts have warned that the potential for indirect harm caused by rumours, conspiracy theories and bad health information online is huge.
Facebook said the sample in the study was ‘not representative’.
In a statement to the BBC, a Facebook spokesperson said: ‘We don’t allow harmful misinformation on our platforms and between April and June we removed more than seven million pieces of harmful Covid-19 misinformation, including claims relating to false cures or suggestions that social distancing is ineffective.’
Florida continues to be one of the hardest-hit states from the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, the state has the second-highest number of confirmed infections—after California—and the fifth highest number of deaths.
It has reported a total of 603,000 infections and 10,396 deaths since the start of the pandemic.