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Billboard removed after calling COVID-19 a lie

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Chesterton billboard

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A message challenging COVID-19 that has since been removed from an electronic billboard in Chesterton.

CHESTERTON — An electronic billboard message challenging the threat posed by COVID-19 and other viruses was removed late Thursday morning in the wake of local criticism.

The message, which appeared on the billboard at the intersection of Indian Boundary and Calumet roads, read, “Viruses are dead! You have been lied to.”

It went on to read, “Google for proof. Are viruses alive?”

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The billboard was created and paid for by Valparaiso man Jim Dandy O’Kelly, who calls himself the founder of the new Anti-Vaccination League of America. He hosts a website at shotsoftruth.com.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lies about living viruses,” he said by phone Thursday. “They lie about everything with viruses.”

O’Kelly, who said he is a healthy 78-year-old and said he has not been to a doctor since 1964, does not believe the coronavirus has been sickening and killing people around the world.

“The people dying are dying of natural disease,” he said.

His views are in stark contrast to medical, public health and elected leaders worldwide, who have classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans alone.

O’Kelly scoffed at recommended social distancing, hand washing and face-mask wearing amid the pandemic.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “All those people out there wearing masks, they’re running on fear.”

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O’Kelly claims he is self-educated on the topic and pursued his education and cause after his daughter was affected by a smallpox vaccine in 1970.

The billboard message, which O’Kelly said went up Monday and was supposed to remain posted through Sunday, generated concern and opposition in the community, which was shared on social media.

Jeff Burton, a general manager with Lamar Advertising, which operates the electronic billboard in question, said Thursday that the message was posted in error.

“Our policy requires sensitive messages to receive management approval,” he wrote in an email reply. “Local management was not given the opportunity to review this message prior to being displayed.”

The message was taken down at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, he said.

“We do apologize for this mistake,” Burton wrote.

Health officials around the world pinpoint COVID-19 as the coronavirus causing the pandemic of illness and death.

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Porter County Health Department Administrator Letty Zepeda said she is reminded each day she arrives at work that the virus and its impact are real when she looks up at a wall that contains the first name and last initial of each local patient.

“That’s a reality check for me,” she said.

John Pisowicz, who serves as the health department’s director of emergency preparedness, said it is true those who have preexisting conditions, such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer or other immune suppressing disorders, are more susceptible to complications if they contract coronavirus.

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But the virus on its own is a threat he has seen firsthand during his full-time job as a flight nurse.

“I can tell you, it’s very real,” Pisowicz said.

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