There’s a lot of information about coronavirus online right now, some of it useful, much of it alarming, and even more of it just confusing noise. Today, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak contributed to that last category, tweeting that he recently returned from China and believed that he and his wife Janet Hill “may have both been patient zero in U.S.”
Which, if true, like holy shit.
Fortunately, it does not appear to be true. According to USA Today reporter Jessica Guynn, Hill later told the paper that her illness was just a sinus infection.
Wozniak exists in the enviable position of never needing to engage with other people again if he so chooses—in real life, and more specifically on social media. “I never ever click my Twitter app and scroll through to see who’s tweeting what,” he told USA Today some years ago, describing what for many of us is a utopian daydream. “I just don’t have time for it. I have a real busy life.”
And his 11 years on the platform however have been largely uneventful! Just the occasional retweet buried beneath the Boomer-spam of Swarm app check-ins. It’s possible Woz forgot he linked his Twitter and Swarm (formerly Foursquare) accounts sometime in 2011, and it’s equally likely the Apple II designer is unaware that the former account is public and has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers.
While most famous technologists either carefully manicure their online personas or avoid having them altogether, Wozniak’s check-ins are an unguarded and (dare I say) mundane accounting of one of the tech industry’s towering godfathers. “Dinner with the in-laws,” one tweet commemorating a visit to Celia’s Mexican Restaurant in November reads. “Midsommar. No idea what to expect,” he wrote from San Jose’s AMC Saratoga 14 in July, with no followup tweet expressing any reaction, good or bad, to director Ari Aster’s sophomore horror film.
Which leads us to today, when Wozniak appeared to assert that he and his wife may have been responsible for bringing the current COVID-19 virus to American shores, seemingly without any evidence.
“Checking out Janet’s bad cough,” the Swarm check-in begins. “Started Jan. 4. We had just returned from China and may have both been patient zero in U.S.” According to the app, he and his wife are currently at Santa Clara’s West Coast Sports Institute.
Some thoughts occur. First, many Americans put off going to the doctor because our insurance system is engineered towards maximum user hostility—but that does not usually apply to people in the Wozniaks’ tax bracket. If you can afford it, don’t just deal with having a bad cough for two months!
Secondly, the World Health Organization issued its first guidance about the novel coronavirus on January 10. If Wozniak believed he or his wife may have come in contact with it, they had plenty of time to seek medical treatment or a quarantine. His Twitter feed shows over 20 check-ins between then and now, many of them involving large gatherings of people, such as airports, restaurants, and a hockey game. How do I know Wozniak was aware of the reports of COVID-19's spread? HE FUCKING TWEETED ABOUT IT.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly: What the fuck, man?
The rapid spread of a disease gives rise to all types of misinformation. A thoughtful and intelligent person such as Steve Wozniak—who abandoned other social media sites over ethical concerns—might have seemed like an unlikely figure to add to that noise by posting unfounded, half-cocked theories about their status as patient zero for the entire world to see, but here we are!
We hope that all Janet has is a sinus infection and that both she and Steve test negative for coronavirus—as do the likely thousands of people they’ve been in contact with for the past two months.