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'Sadly He Is Not With Us': Family Mourns A Dad Who Denied, Then Died From, COVID-19

The family of John McDaniel, an Ohio man who died from COVID-19 after initially claiming the pandemic was overblown, is grieving this week. McDaniel's wife says they're also mourning the fact that her husband didn't get a chance to change the stance he took against the initial public response to the outbreak. It's now clear, she adds, that shutdown orders were necessary.

"We know if John was still here with us he would acknowledge the national crisis we are in, abide by the stay-at-home order, and encourage family and friends to do the same," Lisa McDaniel wrote in a Facebook post. "But sadly he is not with us and we will forever have to live and cope with how his life ended far too soon."

She added, "Further, we will never be able to erase from our hearts and minds the negative posts that have been made and shared about John this past week."

The backlash against John McDaniel's early remarks about COVID-19 on Facebook and Twitter forced his family to cancel plans to put a video stream of his funeral service online.

McDaniel died at age 60 last week, becoming the first person reported to have died from COVID-19 in Marion County.

News of his death recently went viral after skeptical comments he made about COVID-19 were highlighted online. In those remarks from mid-March, McDaniel criticized Gov. Mike DeWine's shutdown order, calling such measures "bull****" and a political ploy — and saying people who stay indoors are being paranoid. The public response to the virus, he said, was madness.

The comments, juxtaposed with McDaniel's death, made headlines at a range of news sites, from The Sun and the New York Post to Fox News.

Reflecting the politically and emotionally charged arguments that are now taking place over COVID-19, stories about McDaniel's death sparked a fact-checking page from Snopes.com, which notes:

"On Feb. 28, just two weeks before McDaniel posted on social media that COVID-19 was a 'political ploy,' Trump said during a rally that 'Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus' as their 'new hoax.' " 

Lisa McDaniel says that despite her husband's comments, he followed official guidance about the coronavirus, ordering employees at his company to work from home on March 16. She adds that McDaniel "immediately" isolated himself after learning that he had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Many, like John, made statements early on not fully aware of the severity of COVID-19; many have retracted their statements knowing now the effects of this pandemic," Lisa McDaniel wrote.

In the past week, she said, media reports about those early assumptions had "opened the flood gates for people to share their own misguided anger and unfounded assumptions about a man they didn't know."

"We have all learned that the early actions taken by our National and State government were indeed the right action to take," Lisa McDaniel wrote. "Quarantine and social distancing have been effective in flattening the curve."

In addition to his wife, John McDaniel is survived by two sons, both of whom are engaged to be married.

His obituary describes McDaniel as "an ornery son-of-a-gun" who loved to tell stories. He also loved the outdoors and served on the board of his local YMCA. He was passionate about boating, fishing and supporting his alma mater, Ohio State University.

"You could not have known a more loving and loyal husband, father, son, brother, uncle, and friend," the obituary states. It later adds, "Simply put, Johnny McDaniel loved life and loved everyone he knew with his whole heart."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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