COVID isn’t over, even if Tilda Swinton and other celebrities say so

Tilda Swinton has joined the likes of Woody Harrelson in publicly expressing her dislike of COVID precautions and her belief that it’s time for the deadly pandemic to be over. Speaking at SXSW, the British actor told the crowd, “It’s a new world,” as soon as she came onstage. Swinton was referring specifically to the Oscars and to films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” but the conversation soon changed to COVID. And Swinton’s attitude? It remained firmly dismissive of the virus that has killed millions and continues to disable millions more.

Swinton expressed her delight that the audience was largely not wearing masks, apparently, and volunteered the information, “I’m just about to start shooting a picture in Ireland, and I was told . . . to wear a mask at all times, and I’m not.” The SXSW interviewer, who was visibly ill, did not challenge her — but Swinton wasn’t done talking about COVID and talking about it as if it’s all over (and good riddance), becoming only the latest celebrity to misuse a powerful platform in order to spread disinformation. In Swinton’s case, that multiple infections and faith will protect her.

Swinton described COVID “challenges” to film and filmmaking, including the issues “lingering around people’s belief in sitting in big spaces.” She made jokes about Texas, where SXSW takes place, asking, “In Texas, did people wear masks? . . . I don’t know. It’s a wide world.”

But her most damning statements came next. “I’m not wearing a mask,” Swinton said, “because I’m super healthy and I’ve had COVID so many times. And I’m so full of antibodies and I have faith.”

Only one year ago, Swinton spoke candidly with W Magazine about her struggles with long COVID, the lingering and often worsening symptoms triggered by a COVID infection which continue to impact an estimated 1 out of every 5 COVID cases. Yes, COVID is still out there and yes, it’s still terrible. When W Magazine interviewed Swinton in 2022, she was “still in recovery” six months after her symptoms started, “when she was unable to get out of bed for three weeks.” She described coughing, intense vertigo and brain fog. “The actor is still having issues with her memory,” W Magazine wrote. 

Like Swinton, actor Harrelson railed against COVID protocols on movie sets during an interview with The New York Times last month, saying, “I don’t think that anybody should have the right to demand that you’re forced to do the testing, forced to wear the mask and forced to get vaccinated three years on. I’m just like, let’s be done with this nonsense . . .  How’s that not up to the individual? I shouldn’t be talking about this [expletive].”

Soon after, Harrelson made an anti-vaccine conspiracy theory joke while hosting “Saturday Night Live” — which did not go over well with the live studio audience, but did go over well with anti-vaxxers on social media

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Swinton, who is 62, may now believe she’s invincible, or that prayer will see her through, but one and only one COVID infection can lead to lifelong health consequences (or death). And Swinton has already had, by her own account, “many” infections. It’s one thing to dislike wearing a mask on set, but it’s another to advocate for ignoring COVID protocols loudly and publicly — protocols established not just for one’s personal safety, but for the health of very large film crews made up of many people. 

The comments on the SXSW interview posted on YouTube seem to suggest Swinton has lost some fans with her remarks. And her statements about how “the one good thing about the pandemic” is that it shattered the beliefs of those “who said cinema was on the way out” ring hollow and false. Swinton described COVID as a “booster jet” for cinema. But it won’t be if those who make movies (and those who watch them) keep on getting sick.

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