Veronica Wolski, QAnon supporter at center of ivermectin firestorm, dies of COVID-related pneumonia at Chicago hospital

Veronica Wolski, QAnon supporter at center of ivermectin firestorm, dies of COVID-related pneumonia at Chicago hospital
·5 min read

Veronica Wolski, the QAnon adherent whose recent hospitalization made her a cause celebre for the controversial medication ivermectin, died in the intensive care unit of Amita Health Resurrection Medical Center early Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said. She was 64.

Wolski’s cause of death was pneumonia due to COVID-19 infection with hypothyroidism as a contributing factor, a spokeswoman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office said Monday morning.

For more than a week, her supporters besieged Resurrection with demands that Wolski be given ivermectin. The medication is typically used to treat diseases caused by parasitic worms, but some have hailed it as a COVID-19 cure despite a lack of definitive scientific proof or government authorization.

The Chicago hospital said last week that its doctors and clinicians, following the guidance of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, do not use ivermectin for COVID-19 cases. The hospital had declined to comment on Wolski’s diagnosis, citing federal privacy laws.

Over the weekend, some of Wolski’s supporters tried to get the hospital to discharge her. A video posted Sunday night to the Telegram channel of right-wing attorney Lin Wood shows him demanding over the phone that the hospital release Wolski to a person holding her medical power of attorney.

“There’s an ambulance waiting for her outside, there’s a medical doctor waiting for her to treat her,” he said. “If you do not release her, you’re going to be guilty of murder. Do you understand what murder is?”

Another video posted on Wood’s channel shows a Chicago police officer outside the hospital speaking with a person demanding, unsuccessfully, to be allowed inside to perform a wellness check. A hospital spokeswoman said police “(assisted) in maintaining the order outside the hospital with a small group of individuals.”

Wolski’s family could not be reached for comment Monday. A person who answered the door at her Northwest Side home said no one was available for an interview.

Wolski was well-known for her political activism. She gained attention in 2016 by standing on a pedestrian bridge over the Kennedy Expressway with banners supporting presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“It’s like having a Bernie rally,” she told the Tribune at the time. “To have thousands of people, like-minded, you just feel like a community. And these are my people.”

She referred to then-candidate Donald Trump as “a goof” during the interview, but at some point she became a massive Trump supporter and a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory. Her bridge messages began to say things such as “Q Sent Me” and “COVID fraud.”

Joseph Uscinski, a University of Miami political science professor who studies conspiracy theories, said that kind of evolution is not unusual for people who hold the worldview that the system is rigged. QAnon originated on internet message boards but many of its tenets reflect conspiracy beliefs that are decades if not centuries old, he said.

“Once they’re at that point and say everything is corrupt and rigged, it’s very easy to say modern medicine is rigged, politics are rigged, the media is rigged, because they’re seeing all those things through the exact same lens,” he said.

Wolski’s Telegram channel includes numerous posts showing scorn for masks, vaccines and other mainstream approaches to avoiding COVID-19. In late July, she posted a video in which she described suffering from a prolonged fever, body aches and violent coughing fits that she attributed to a cold.

She says in the video that she felt better after taking a five-day course of ivermectin. Photos and videos posted over the next three weeks show her returning to the overpass she dubbed “The People’s Bridge.”

But her channel also shows that by Aug. 20 she was in the emergency department. None of the subsequent posts included a request for ivermectin, though one uploaded Aug. 24 displays the hospital’s location and asks for “a medical person to help get me out of here.”

Some of Wolski’s supporters soon began to seek ivermectin treatment on her behalf, boosted by a social media appeal from Wood. Resurrection officials said last week they had received hundreds of calls and emails about Wolski.

Ivermectin has become a popular alternative treatment for COVID-19 despite warnings from the government and numerous medical authorities that it hasn’t been proven to be effective and, in its more potent veterinary form, can even be lethal.

Some COVID patients and their families have sued hospitals when doctors have declined to offer ivermectin. In May, a DuPage County judge ordered Elmhurst Hospital to allow a comatose patient, Nurije Fype, to receive the medication after none of its physicians agreed to administer it.

An outside doctor gave Fype the drugs, and according to social media accounts account run by her daughter, she improved and eventually returned home.

Following Wolski’s death, social media platforms overflowed with thousands of messages of mourning and anger, and by mid-day her name was a national trending topic on Twitter. In a Telegram post viewed more than 230,000 times, Wood expressed sadness and issued a vague call for “non-violent civil disobedience.”

The only indication of that at the hospital Monday morning was a sign mounted along West Talcott Avenue that read, “R.I.P Veronica Wolski / Say her name!” At the bridge, someone left flowers and a blue rubber bracelet inscribed with the QAnon saying, “(The) storm is upon us.”

Wicker Park resident Jason Warth arrived with an American flag he mounted in Wolski’s honor on the bridge’s safety fence. Though he knew her only from social media, he said he respected her determined spirit.

“She was kind of a one-of-a-kind patriot who had the time and energy and opportunity to do what she did,” he said. “As for whether it’s a sad story, I guess it depends on perspective. To me, it’s a patriotic story of a woman who loved her country. … It’s a sad ending but not a sad story.”

jkeilman@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @JohnKeilman

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