UFC champ Julianna Peña of Spokane alleges COVID-19 plot ‘to kill us’ on Joe Rogan podcast, frustrating health district

Spokane native Julianna Peña captured worldwide attention when she upset Amanda Nunes in December, winning the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title. She made headlines again last week for her COVID-19 comments on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.

“I’m a massive conspiracy theorist on this whole thing and have been from the very beginning,” Peña said. “I’m like, it’s just a cash grab. It’s – they’re trying to kill us, you know, and it’s ridiculous.

Rogan quickly responded with “Whoa”.

Rogan has come under fire for questioning COVID-19 vaccines on his popular podcast. Critics say Rogan, a comedian and mixed martial arts commentator, is spreading dangerous misinformation. But this time it was Rogan who challenged someone’s perspective on the pandemic.

“I don’t think they’re trying to kill us,” Rogan said. “I think there’s a lot of confusion as to what works and what doesn’t.”

Peña told Rogan that she tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020, according to a story by MMA Junkie. She did not reveal whether she had been vaccinated, but indicated that she opposes mask mandates.

“For me, I don’t put on a mask unless someone asks me to,” Peña said. “And then I’m like, ‘It’s over. Go on.’ … It’s ridiculous. I’m sick of it. I’m so fed up.

CDC says people over age 2 should wear a mask in indoor public places if not fully vaccinated; fully vaccinated and in a significant or high transmission area; or fully vaccinated and with a weakened immune system. Some states, including Washington, have mask mandates even if you are fully vaccinated.

The CDC says people generally don’t need to wear masks outside. However, in areas with high case numbers, the federal agency recommends considering wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities in close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

Peña did not respond to a message from The Spokesman-Review seeking comment.

Gonzaga basketball great John Stockton is another local who has expressed views that go against the grain of public health experts.

The private university recently suspended Stockton’s subscriptions to home basketball games because the Naismith Basketball Memorial Hall of Fame point guard failed to meet the school’s mask mandate.

Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins said public figures like Peña and Stockton have a broader platform, but the main threat is the misinformation that exists in the first place.

“You talk about individuals with a louder voice, but the main culprit here is misinformation and that undermines our efforts,” Hawkins said.

She said misinformation sows confusion and mistrust. The first step is to understand the source of the information and its intent.

It’s important for the district to help people understand where to find credible resources and get correct information about the virus, Hawkins said, noting that communicating information quickly but also admitting when you don’t fully understand something is helpful.

“We learn more about the virus and just as we learn more, that changes,” Hawkins said. “We learn more about it, we develop guidelines and recommendations based on what we know at this stage and at this time, and then as the virus evolves and we learn more, we have to change that.”

As of Friday, more than 74 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the United States and nearly 880,000 people have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Friday, there were 1,192 deaths in Spokane County, according to the health district.

Cases have consistently topped 1,000 a day in Spokane County as the highly contagious omicron variant proliferates. A record 1,886 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Jan. 20 in the county. This was followed by 1,743 new cases on January 21, 1,607 Monday, 830 Tuesday, 1,309 Wednesday, 1,512 Thursday and 1,551 Friday.

Countless others have been hospitalized and/or suffered from “long COVID” or symptoms such as shortness of breath, months after being infected.

The high number of cases continues to strain hospitals, schools and businesses, including in Spokane.

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