Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee meets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee meets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The continued spread of false COVID-19 information by GOP politicians like Ron Johnson has prolonged the pandemic, speakers say.

Two years after the World Health Organization first gave COVID-19 its name, two Wisconsin healthcare workers, a former Biden White House COVID adviser, and US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) lamented how misinformation spread by Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson has prolonged the pandemic and caused needless death and suffering.

“We better not grow numb to the number of lives that were taken unnecessarily by this virus,” Moore said in a press conference hosted by Protect Our Care, a healthcare advocacy organization. “I mean, we’re nearing 900,000 lives lost. … No one chose to have this virus. We can’t blame this virus on Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Sen. Johnson, but we can blame people for not leaning forward to try to stop the heartbreak.”

Speakers specifically targeted Johnson over his continued spread of false information about the pandemic and vaccines, such as claims that mouthwash can fight the virus and that disproven drugs are an effective COVID treatment. Johnson has also given a platform to prominent anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists

“I would point to Ron Johnson and say that he has been a part of prolonging the pandemic by putting [out] misinformation about vaccines, by promoting conspiracy theories and treatments that just don’t work,” said Andy Slavitt, a former adviser on President Joe Biden’s Coronavirus task force.

A Johnson spokeswoman did not respond to questions regarding the comments and instead referred to the senator’s website and Twitter account on which he frequently posts false information about the pandemic.

Beyond the risks for people who refuse vaccinations or other basic safety precautions, the effects of the constant misinformation stream are both demoralizing and dangerous for healthcare workers, said Dr. Rachel Hughes, a Madison emergency room physician. 

“It just makes a very difficult job even harder when I have to argue with patients or, in some situations, worry about my own safety because of the vehemence with which the patients believe this misinformation,” Hughes said, adding that physicians have had to call police to remove people from the ER numerous times.