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An evolutionary biologist explains why so many celebrities are getting coronavirus

An evolutionary biologist explains why so many celebrities are getting coronavirus
[Photo: Meriç Dağlı/Unsplash; iXimus/Pixabay]

You may have noticed that numerous celebrities have tested positive for the coronavirus over the last two weeks, despite only about 55,000 confirmed positive cases in the U.S.

Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary and theoretical biologist at the University of Washington, explains that it is because celebrities and politicians are more connected than most of us. “They are, in the language of network theory, highly connected nodes,” he says. “They travel more and have more in-person interactions with more people. And moreover those interactions are also with very well-connected people.”

Cue COVID-19, which thrives in these conditions.

“Network models of disease suggest that infection occurs and peaks earlier in highly connected nodes relative to average nodes,” says Bergstrom. Epidemiological research backs this up.

Here are some of the celebrities who have discussed their diagnoses, or whose diagnoses have been otherwise reported, so far. (Keep in mind that many more famous figures are likely positive and staying mum, either out of worry that their illness will hurt upcoming opportunities, or failure to see how sharing their health status will benefit their public image):

  • Entertainers: Tom and Rita Hanks, Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba, Hawaii 5-0 actor Daniel Dae Kim, The Bachelor’s Colton Underwood, Bravo’s Andy Cohen, Younger‘s Debi Mazar, opera star Placido Domingo, Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge
  • Athletes: Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons, Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, retired player Jason Collins, Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics, and dozens of top male soccer players worldwide
  • Politicians and royalty: Prince Charles, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez’s wife, Begona, Senator Rand Paul (who was reportedly exercising in the Senate gym until the day he was diagnosed, so more senators are likely to come), vice president of Iran Masoumeh Ebtekar, Miami mayor Francis Suarez, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and congressmen Ben McAdams and Mario Diaz-Balart

All these celebrity diagnoses, by the way, have been a boon to public health messaging. Many Americans ignored the virus until Tom and Rita Hanks tested positive on March 10 and modeled self-isolation on Twitter. Rudy Gobert was jokingly rubbing his hands over press conference microphones before his diagnosis. Days later he posted to the NBA Twitter account: “I just want to remind you to keep washing your hands, try to avoid touching your face and try to avoid making unnecessary contact with people . . . I wish I would’ve taken this thing more seriously and I hope everyone else will do so because we can do it together.”

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