Tom Hanks’ COVID diagnosis changed Americans’ view of virus, study says

Hanks contracted the virus while filming in Australia last spring

Tom HanksCOVID-19 diagnosis changed how a large amount of Americans viewed the virus, a new study says.

Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were two of the first celebrities to reveal a diagnosis for COVID-19 last March, which they picked up while they were in Australia and left them hospitalised.

The couple were in Australia for pre-production of the as-yet-untitled Elvis Presley biopic from Warner Bros when they discovered they had tested positive for COVID-19. After updating fans on their status while in lockdown, saying that they “felt better,” they then recovered and are back home in Los Angeles.

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A new study from Penn State University now shows that the news of Hanks’ diagnosis began the day after the news broke on March 11. It surveyed 682 Americans, 90% of which said they were aware of his diagnosis, and more than half admitting that it changed their attitudes and behaviours surrounding the virus.

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson attend the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

“There is a growing body of research about how celebrity behavior and social media posts can affect public health,” Jessica Gall Myrick, a professor at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, explained. “This research was different in that we were able to launch our study really fast and collect survey data within a day of Hanks posting about his diagnosis.”

She added: “Celebrities can have a huge reach, often more so than typical scientists or doctors or the health department. If they are encouraging positive health behavior change, then it can serve as a de facto public health intervention.”

Tom Hanks was also named among the celebrities proving most influential in persuading fans to vote in the imminent US election.

49 per cent of voters said that Tom Hanks was the person they trusted most regarding views on social and political issues in the USA.

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Following his coronavirus diagnosis, Hanks urged people to wear masks in the ongoing fight against the virus, saying “shame on you” to those not doing so.

“I guess we were model recoverers from COVID-19,” he said of himself and his wife, adding: “There’s really only three things we can do in order to get to tomorrow: Wear a mask, social distance, wash our hands.

“Those things are so simple, so easy, if anybody cannot find it in themselves to practice those three very basic things – I just think shame on you. Don’t be a p—-, get on with it, do your part.”

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