A Virginia pastor who criticized the “mass hysteria” surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has died of the illness, according to new reports.
Landon Spradlin, of Gretna — a small town halfway between Lynchburg and Danville — started to feel sick while in New Orleans, where he went to preach to the crowds gathered for Mardi Gras celebrations, according to the BBC.
A month later, Spradlin — who was also a seasoned musician inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016 — died.
“His mission was to go into pubs, clubs and bars, play the blues and connect with musicians and just tell them that Jesus loved them,” Spradlin’s daughter Jesse Spradlin, 28, told the BBC.
“Mardi Gras is like Times Square in New York during New Year’s Eve. It’s a sea of people just drinking and partying. He was loud and laughing and in his element.”
Spradlin began to feel unwell while in New Orleans but initially tested negative for COVID-19.
As he battled symptoms, he shared a controversial meme on March 13, comparing coronavirus deaths to swine flu deaths, Patch reported. The meme is no longer visible on his Facebook page.
The meme decried the public reaction to the pandemic as “mass hysteria” and suggested the media was using the outbreak to hurt President Donald Trump.
In the comments, the pastor said he believes the coronavirus “is a real issue, but I believe the media is pumping out fear and doing more harm than good.”
“It will come and it will go,” he wrote, according to Patch.
Another of Spradlin’s daughters said the family band never discussed the virus as they played in the historic Jackson Square — even though the deadly bug had already started spreading into the US.
“I don’t even remember us talking about the virus,” Naomi Spradlin, 26, told the BBC. “With what’s happened, we keep looking back, and we didn’t talk about it once.”
But Spradlin’s son Landon Isaac, 32, told the outlet his father “didn’t think it was a hoax, he knew it was a real virus.”
“But he did put up that post because he was frustrated that the media was propagating fear as the main mode of communication,” he said.
By mid-March, on the 900-mile drive back home to Virginia, Spradlin’s health rapidly deteriorated.
“I spoke to him five minutes before he collapsed in North Carolina,” Isaac told the BBC. “I could tell his breathing was getting bad. And I just said that you’ve got to get home. But he didn’t make it.”
The pastor was taken to a hospital in North Carolina where doctors discovered that he developed pneumonia in both lungs — and this time he tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report.
He died after eight days in intensive care.
“We just never thought our father would pass away because of this,” Jesse Spradlin told the outlet. “But he wasn’t the type of person to just live in fear and let it rob him of the joy of the life that he had.”