A Florida pastor who at one point dismissed the threat of coronavirus as “just the flu” has died of complications caused by the illness, her family said on Monday. Her husband, who was equally skeptical, was also hospitalized but has since recovered.
Erin Hitchens, a 46-year-old pastor in West Palm Beach, fell ill in April and spent months in the intensive care unit, where she was put on a ventilator and sedated with no signs of improvement. She died this month of heart problems related to COVID-19.
Erin and her husband, Brian Lee Hitchens, were both skeptical of the virus when it reached the U.S. and began to spread. They believed online conspiracy theories, didn’t follow health guidance, and waited to seek help when they fell ill, according to the BBC, which featured Brian’s story in May.
“The news is emphasizing way too much on this coronavirus garbage, all it is is just the flu,” Erin wrote on Facebook on March 12, when she mistakenly believed that she had already gone through COVID-19 in the past. “I recently had it, I’m not dead. I’m not in the hospital and I’m fine.”
Erin added: “Can we all come together and get a petition going and tell the news to stop creating hysteria? Dr. Oz and other doctors are calling the news media’s out saying there is mass hysteria … Enough is enough, and you know what, I’m not scared, this is why I’m speaking out. Others need to speak out too with their voice.”
In later posts, however, she appeared to take the virus more seriously. “Let’s give these doctors and nurses a thank you,” she said on Facebook, adding that she was praying for the world to get healthy again and for life to get back to normal.
Brian told the BBC on Monday that he wished he had listened from the beginning and 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.
At least 23 million people have been infected with coronavirus since it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, killing more than 810,000 people around the world, including 177,000 people in the U.S.