Rogan Skips Quarantine

Three days after his friend tested positive, the podcaster appeared on an unmasked indoor comedy show.

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Last week Joe Rogan, the Austin-based podcaster and friend of Elon Musk, was exposed to Covid-19. This week he appeared on an unmasked indoor comedy show, apparently ignoring CDC quarantine guidelines.

A post shared by Joe Rogan (@joerogan)

The timeline here is very straightforward. On January 19th, Rogan and Chappelle had a show at Stubb’s Austin, a venue that does not require masks when audiences are seated. The comics were photographed hanging out backstage with other unmasked people, like comics Michelle Wolf and Donnell Rawlings, as well as billionaire Elon Musk and his wife Grimes, who had Covid earlier this month. On January 21st, Chappelle revealed he tested positive for Covid-19 and was isolating in accordance with CDC guidelines. On January 25th, Rogan appeared on a live recording of the podcast Kill Tony at Antone’s Nightclub, a venue that also does not require masking when audiences are seated. In images of the show posted on Instagram, none of the comics are wearing masks. Unmasked audience and band members are visible as well.

A post shared by Trevin (@frameofmindart)
A post shared by Joshua Kotschedoff (@jkotchya)
A post shared by Clarissa Marie Arispe (@clarissa.arispe)

CDC guidelines recommend that anyone who has a “close contact” with someone with Covid-19 stay home for 14 days after their last interaction with that person. The CDC’s definitions of “close contact” include “You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more” and “You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them).”

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A post shared by Mathieu Bitton (@candytman)

(That second picture is from December, but I think it’s worth making clear they’re not exactly distancing onstage.)

Chappelle and his team have been conducting daily Covid-19 tests throughout the pandemic. Audiences at the Stubb’s residency receive rapid antigen tests upon entry. Rogan, who’s been providing rapid testing for his podcast guests since April, wrote on Instagram two days after Chappelle’s diagnosis that he “tested negative every day this week.” Neither his team nor Antone’s Nightclub have responded to my inquiries, but it stands to reason he went into the show with the assurance of a negative rapid test result.

The thing is, that assurance isn’t worth very much. As Lisa M. Lee, an epidemiologist and bioethicist at Virginia Tech, told me earlier today, rapid tests trade accuracy for speed. “They are approved for use when someone has COVID-19 symptoms, so using them to screen asymptomatic people who want to gather at a club is not necessarily going to prevent an infected person from slipping through,” she said. Antigen tests like the ones Rogan and Chappelle provide at their Stubb’s residency require a relatively large amount of virus to turn up positive; people with lower amounts of viral particles—perhaps because they’re early in their infection—may receive a false negative even though they’re perfectly capable of spreading the virus.

Frequent rapid testing is an effective means of identifying cases within a community (or workplace), but it doesn’t change the fact that any single negative result may be inaccurate, and it’s no excuse to disregard basic safety protocols. When I asked Lee if there’s any conceivable reason someone shouldn’t quarantine after exposure to Covid-19, she demurred. “Contacts to persons who test positive for COVID-19 infection should enter quarantine immediately and remain separated for at least 10 days, or until day 7 if you have a negative test then,” she said. Again, six days elapsed between the Stubb’s show and the Antone’s show.

I’ve reached out to Rogan’s representatives for comment and will update this post if I hear back.


Header image via Miikka Skaffari/Netflix.