For the last two years, we have been told to fear COVID. Constantly washing our hands, wearing masks, staying indoors for months on end at a time. We stopped moving around freely, travelling and seeing family and friends. We isolated to avoid catching a deadly virus.
But then, something suddenly shifted.
In November 2021, we were exhausted. It had finally happened… One too many lockdowns, one too many press conferences and one too many health warnings. Yet another new variant of COVID was looming and we collectively feared another lockdown. Which would in turn mean another summer inside: no beach, no pool, no Christmas with our families or New Year’s with our friends.
But, instead of locking us down, we adopted a new mantra: “Let it rip.” Case numbers soared as we continued to go to bars, restaurants, clubs, shopping centres, jump on planes and hug our loved ones.
COVID was here, and it was here to stay.
This realisation shifted everyone’s general attitude towards the virus. What was once scary has become our new normal. People shared text messages confirming what we once feared: COVID had ripped through the community at rapid speed.
It was present at influencer yacht parties and long lunches where those with blue ticks gathered, danced and ate, only to spend the next week in bed paying the price for it. Instagram stories quickly went from cocktails to PCR tests. From sponsored posts to COVID remedies. From glam selfies to death-bed diaries.
With this significant – and sudden – shift in attitude, something else changed though. It became alarmingly clear that people almost wanted to get COVID. The way in which influencers started to announce their diagnoses was accompanied by proud smiles, boasting and sometimes even laughter.
What came next was a barrage of Instagram stories wherein they home decored and DIY’d watched reruns of The Real Housewives and got treated to companies sending them comfort food and drinks. They made COVID look cool.
Take for example Jimmy Nicholson and Holly Kingston from the recent season of The Bachelor, who flashed their professionally whitened smiles to joyously announce that they had caught the ‘spicy cough’.
And it seemed COVID loved a Bachelor winner.
Matty Johnson and Laura Byrne hit the road to Queensland, only to return a positive PCR test before crossing the border. The couple, along with their two young children, had no other option but to drive back to their Bondi abode.
And what was the first thing they did upon their arrival? Jump on their respective Instagram accounts to document the experience, making light of a deadly virus that has killed millions. Got COVID? Well, you’ve also got an opportunity for new content and a Daily Mail headline.
Instead of downing vitamins and Panadol to fight off the virus, the couple sipped cold Rosé as they laughed about their unfortunate (almost) trip to the Sunshine state. The only downside about getting COVID for Matty J and Laura it seemed, was the fact they couldn’t taste their Rosé.
Then, Big Brother star Tully Smyth jumped on the bandwagon. Over the last ten years, Tully has made a name for herself in the influencer world, through a carefully curated feed of selfies and #sponcon.
Returning from a recent social media detox (which as revealed in episode 111 of the So Dramatic! Podcast was just a cover-up for her appearance on Big Brother All-Stars), Tully returned to the ‘gram with a bang!
Not only did she launch her new beau Daniel Parisi with a series of posts about how sickening in love (pun absolutely intended!) they were. Their relationship progressed to showing off their abundance of scarce Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).
In the world of influencers, everything is an opportunity for content and Tully milked COVID (despite not even having the virus) for all it’s worth. She broadcast her attempts to locate the latest hottest commodity, as she desperately travelled the state for RATs.
Once securing the goods, she then posted a daily diary of RAT testing, before heading off to galleries, events, shopping, coffee dates, walks and whatever else is on an influencer’s to-do list, assuring fans, “Don’t worry, I’m negative, hehe.”
Until she wasn’t.
Well… she was. But her boyfriend wasn’t. He had tested positive on a RAT and to quote Tully herself, “felt like a train had hit him.” It sounded awful.
Fortunately for Tully, she had managed to side-step the virus and return a negative test. But what she did next shocked everyone.
The influencer announced to her 210,000 followers that despite not having the virus, she was moving into her boyfriend’s home anyway, on a not-so-secret suicide mission in the “hopes of catching it.”
“So… the boy has woken up feeling awful and tested positive on a RAT (at his house) but I’m still testing negative (at my house),” she penned on her Instagram stories at the time.
“After MUCH anxiety and deliberation (I literally called 3 people to ask their opinion) I’ve decided to pack my stuff and move in for the week to hopefully catch it sooner rather than later [sic].
“Packing essentials included lots of loungewear and oversized tee’s, 4 books, Monopoly Deal, a nice smelling candle, earplugs (jokes bby) and, of course, the golden ticket RATs. Wish me luck!”
The announcement was not only shocking because it defied basic common sense, but because Tully had suffered through Melbourne’s harsh lockdowns and had been very vocal about the impact it had on her and the toll it had taken on her mental health. For two years, she had also expressed her fear of catching the virus.
Mentally, she was struggling. But kept repeating the mantra to herself and her followers: ‘stop the spread, don’t get sick.’
But now suddenly, she was putting herself in the direct firing line of the same deadly virus she once went to extreme lengths to avoid. And doing it with a smile plastered wide across her face via a quick detour past Hungry Jacks.
“Pitt stop at Hungry Jacks was also a necessity…” she told fans. But, was it?
She showed off to fans what she had packed to bring over to her man’s place for their COVID staycation: Boardgames, candles and her best loungewear. All whilst endearingly referring to her boyfriend “patient zero” (lol I believe that person is in Wuhan but go off sis!). And, to the bemusement of Australians, she moved in with two COVID positive people.
Tully then admitted she was “timing” her COVID diagnosis, so as not to miss important upcoming events on the social calendar like yacht parties, weddings and birthdays.
“I’d rather take my luck and both of us have it at the same time than get it later and put us back into iso for another week, missing weddings etc,” she announced to fans.
Tully acted like COVID was inevitable. She acted like COVID was funny. She acted like COVID was something you can pick and choose like an outfit for your next event.
All whilst millions of immune-compromised, disabled, elderly and vulnerable members of our community live in a constant state of fear. Let’s remember, that what’s “mild” for one person can be a death sentence for another. Purposefully infecting yourself with COVID so it doesn’t disrupt your social calendar is the epitome of privilege and ableism.
What was even more shocking was Tully had previously voiced her concerns over underprivileged families not being able to access RATs. But when it came to herself, she was going through them like I go through underpants, despite not even having any symptoms.
Tully also shared advice on how best to treat COVID, but it sounded more like a menu from a health retreat. Let’s remember, the best way to treat COVID is to not get it in the first place.
Tully even signed off one of her Instagram stories with “please be kind and stay safe” – despite being in the process of putting herself in the direct firing line of COVID at the time the post was made.
Another influencer, Natasha Bongiorno, also joined the COVID-collective and wrote: “Trying to get COVID off Dale: Day 4.”
Before sharing with her followers, the exact methods to her madness.
“Sharing toothbrushes, forcing him to pash me, eating his half-eaten food, grabbing all spoons he’s using and licking them,” she detailed to her followers.
As a healthy 32-year-old, statistically, I would survive the virus. Keyword: statistically. But getting COVID was not on my 2022 bingo card. It’s not on my to-do list. And, if I do get it then I would isolate. I would stay inside and don’t invite lovers over for a game of Monopoly.
As we are all too well aware, there have been young, healthy, vaccinated people with no underlying health conditions who have sadly died from COVID. So I am confused where the shift in attitude came from and when and why the virus became cool overnight. It went from scary to trendy faster than you can say “#Ad.”
RATs are now the God-tier of content, even better if it has a double-line. We are celebrating a positive COVID test like a positive pregnancy test. And now we have people actively trying their hardest to get the virus, as long as it doesn’t foil their future plans and they can document it to their followers in a bid to boost engagement levels.
COVID-19 is not a trend nor a hashtag – well, it shouldn’t be! It’s not something to have FOMO over. Yes, it’s great that the stigma around COVID if you do happen to catch it has been removed. But to chase it through the streets, hunt it down and then beg it to infect you isn’t just dumb, it’s dangerous.
The job of an influencer is exactly that: to influence. Their lifestyles are put on pedestals as something to be desired. So when COVID is portrayed as glamorous – when it’s anything but – this messaging from the *role models* of our society is perilous.
So, the next time an influencer makes COVID seem desirable, perhaps question what the motive is. The way that my editor will critique this, influencers can also be critiqued. Should also be critiqued. And the criticism at the most basic level is that this attitude is quite simply wrong.
Our hospitals are flooded with sick people and being stretched beyond capacity. Our frontline health workers are being pushed to their limits. Our health care system is at breaking point.
Not to mention, it is extremely insensitive to those who have lost loved ones to COVID.
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