‘Corona-shamed’: George Stephanopoulos, J. Lo — maybe you?
On April 10, television anchor George Stephanopoulos went to a pharmacy in East Hampton, New York, wearing a mask and gloves, nine days after his wife, actress Ali Wentworth, revealed she had tested positive for the coronavirus.
In the moment, he was just a husband and a father running an errand.
But Wentworth had opened up about her symptoms on “Good Morning America” telling viewers that her husband was the only one in the family entering her room.
Stephanopoulos, 59, an anchor of the show, said that he was taking care to protect himself. “I’m definitely being careful in wiping down and wearing gloves,” he said. “I have not been wearing a mask.”
Wentworth ended her video by saying: “be safe, stay home.”
So it irked Carrie Doyle, an author who lives in New York City and East Hampton, when she saw Stephanopoulos at White’s Apothecary about a week later. The pharmacy is offering free delivery and has urged customers to take advantage of the service to protect the health of staff and customers who need to come in to talk with the pharmacist.
“I was dismayed that he chose the option to pick up in person,” Doyle said. “I thought it wasn’t very thoughtful to be out and about, especially since the other customers in the pharmacy were elderly.”
When she got home, she vented her frustration to her nearly 1,000 Facebook friends, drawing dozens of comments. A typical one: “Very arrogant!”
The internet has always opened its arms to people wanting to spotlight the behavior and perceived misdeeds of neighbors, celebrities and strangers.
But now, weeks into the pandemic’s shutdown of businesses and schools, and with state governments calling for all but essential workers to stay home, the web is especially alight with finger-pointers: people who are genuinely concerned about public health but also, perhaps, with pent-up fears, frustrations and extra time on their hands.
Call it “corona-shaming.”
In an interview, Doyle said she was bothered that Stephanopoulos had been urging viewers on television to live by the rules of isolation and social distancing but was not, in her judgment, strictly abiding by those rules himself.
She later heard from friends that they spotted him taking a walk on a golf course without a mask, and they sent her a picture. “I have nothing against George Stephanopoulos, and I wish his wife a speedy recovery,” she said. “But I think he should stay home.”
On Monday, Stephanopoulos announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Stephanopoulos said that he had been following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and went into the pharmacy more than 14 days after his wife first exhibited symptoms.
“I was staying home, I was self-monitoring, I never had a temperature, and I never had any of the classic symptoms,” Stephanopoulos said. “I was wearing a mask and gloves in White’s.”
The next day, he said, he decided to try to get tested because he was preparing to return to work. He was able to get tested at an urgent care facility in Bridgehampton.
Then he took a walk on the golf course. “I was carrying a mask,” Stephanopoulos said. “I was nowhere near any people.” It was later that he learned he had tested positive.
‘Follow the rules’
Celebrities and public figures are the most visible targets of corona-shaming.
Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez were heaped with criticism after they were photographed leaving a gym in Miami a few weeks ago.
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were denounced after The New York Times reported that they traveled from Washington to New Jersey for Passover. (Ivanka Trump has posted multiple videos preaching the importance of staying home. “Let’s do everything we can to stop the spread,” she said in one on March 23.)
And on Easter, Chris Cuomo, host of the CNN show “Cuomo Prime Time,” who made headlines for dispatches from his basement about his ordeal with COVID-19, had a verbal altercation in East Hampton with a cyclist who said Cuomo was not following quarantine rules. Cuomo was with family, on his own property.
In a report the cyclist filed with the East Hampton Town Police, he stated that when he confronted Cuomo, the television anchor said that the cyclist hadn’t “seen the last of him and that he would beat the crap out of him.”
A CNN spokeswoman said: “Chris has said emphatically that this has never happened.”
“Chris was following all social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask in his own backyard with his immediate family members,” she wrote in an email. “A complete stranger approached them from their own private driveway, in order to curse at Chris in front of his wife and children.”
But it’s not just public figures drawing ire.
Earlier this month, Dana Weiss, of Deerfield, Illinois, started a private Facebook group that she named “That’s it. I’m coronavirus shaming.” It has more than 1,000 members and is devoted to sharing memes and photos that show people falling short of the CDC’s guidance — especially the pleas to stay at least 6 feet away from others and wear a mask or face covering when in proximity to people in public.
What gets members riled up are the posts that reveal that some people have been planning backyard gatherings, small birthday get-togethers, vacations, even weddings.
“There are people who don’t follow the rules, but it’s not really about that. It’s about the confidence with which people are doing that and then sharing it on social media,” said Weiss, a mother of two teenage sons.
Her Facebook page has drawn criticism from some in her suburban Chicago community after word got out that photos were being posted of people who were unaware that their actions had been documented. Weiss said she aims to black out identifying names and faces, and stressed that her purpose is to provide a place for people to vent and maybe even laugh.
“I don’t think you’re a bad person,” she said, “I just don’t think you should be hosting prom in your backyard right now.”
The idea is to criticize actions, not people, she said. “Nobody has ever changed their behavior based on what a stranger has told them to do on the internet.”
In relative isolation, Candace Browdy, also of Deerfield, Illinois, is glad to have social media for venting. “I’m home with an 18-year-old and a dog and neither of them are that interested in hearing it from me,” she said.
Last Sunday, Browdy took her weekly trip to the grocery store, wearing a mask and gloves, and did what she could to remain at least 6 feet away from other shoppers. As she tried to make it down one aisle, she stopped short of a group of three people, maskless as they talked alongside two carts.
Browdy said she waited patiently and after a few minutes, one of the men moved his cart to let her pass. But the couple with the other cart didn’t make much room for her to get by while maintaining any distance. “I moved past them and shook my head,” she said, causing the woman who had been chatting in the group to call after Browdy: “Don’t you shake your head at us.”
Normally, Browdy said, she would have engaged further with the woman in the aisle, but she didn’t want to spend a minute longer than necessary in the store. When she got home, she shared her anger on the corona-shaming Facebook page.
“I could shame people all day long,” she said. “There is one way to handle this, and that is to be as careful and mindful as possible to protect yourself so you can protect other people.”
Terri Chaseley, who lives in nearby Highland Park, Illinois, has found it almost therapeutic to read the corona-shaming social media posts. “It’s somewhat cathartic to be with like-minded individuals who are upset by people not following the recommendations of scientists,” she said.
Chaseley herself was hospitalized with COVID-19 in March and is now nursing her daughters, ages 10 and 13, through the virus as well. (Her experience was reported by the Chicago Tribune.)
When she was released from the hospital and was back home — still feeling terrible and in isolation — a friend sent a group text message asking if other mothers were letting their teenage children spend time with their significant others.
Having come across social media posts that enraged her while she was in the hospital, Chaseley felt compelled by this text to raise awareness. “I was so mad and I wrote a semi-shaming post without naming names,” she said. It has been shared by some 16,000 people.
But whose rules?
As stay-at-home guidance changes from state to state and country to country, corona-shaming will surely become more widespread.
Earlier this week, journalist Yashar Ali posted on Twitter about Aaron Schock, a former Illinois congressman who was seen in photographs on Instagram in Los Cabos. “Love that Aaron Schock has been holed up at a villa in Mexico with a bunch of guys,” he wrote.
A picture of Schock arm in arm with five other men on the beach was posted by Mauricio Kirschner, an event producer, with the caption “BE MY QUARANTINE.” (Messages sent to Schock on Instagram were not answered.)
Reached by phone in Mexico, Kirschner said he, Schock and the other men had been living together in a private villa since the second week in March. (Residents of Mexico were not asked to stay home until March 28.)
“I think it’s better to stay here,” Kirschner said. “The weather is amazing. Nobody is here. It’s completely empty.”
One of the men, who goes by PJ Druck Torres on Instagram, said in an Instagram message that the group is “following the rules” and that “haters will always look for a flaw.”
Earlier this week, he shared a photo of himself and a woman hugging in an infinity swimming pool. “Making the best from the worst,” he captioned it. On some of his other Instagram pictures, he added the hashtag #stayathome.
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