Wisconsin Girl Wins Lawsuit Over Social Media Posts Saying She Had COVID-19

A federal judge ruled in favor of a high school girl in Wisconsin who was threatened with charges or arrest over a social media post saying she had COVID-19 in March 2020.

Amyiah Cohoon had just gotten home after a spring break trip to Florida sent her to the hospital with symptoms of COVID-19. She posted on Instagram she had “beaten the corona virus,” before any cases had been recorded in the state of Wisconsin.

Cohoon fell ill while traveling with her band in Florida, exhibiting a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. She went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with an “acute upper respiratory infection.” Doctors said that her symptoms matched covid-19 but that she was ineligible to be tested for the virus, court documents state.

Cohoon posted on Instagram that she thought she had been infected, had been to hospitals, and though she tested negative, her doctors thought she probably had had it earlier.

A sheriff’s sergeant showed up at the home on March 27 and told the family that the post had to come down by the sheriff’s orders for “causing a disturbance to the public.”

Earlier that day, the school district administrator had notified parents there was “no truth” to rumors a student had contracted COVID-19 during the band trip. He called Cohoon’s posts, “a foolish means to get attention and the source of the rumor has been addressed.”

U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig granted her summary judgment in the case on Friday.

Ludwig said the sheriff’s office violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech, regardless of whether the then 16-year old actually had the virus or not.

“The First Amendment is not a game setting for the government to toggle off and on. It applies in times of tranquility and times of strife,” Ludwig stated in the decision. “While Defendants in this case may have believed their actions served the greater good, that belief cannot insulate them. Demanding a 16-year-old remove protected speech from her Instagram account is a First Amendment violation.”

Washington Post, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel