A novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has globally attracted attention as a severe respiratory condition. The epidemic has been first tracked in Wuhan, China, and has progressively been expanded in the entire world. The growing expansion of COVID-19 around the globe has made X-ray images crucial for accelerated diagnostics. Therefore, an effective computerized system must be established as a matter of urgency, to facilitate health care professionals in recognizing X-ray images from COVID-19 patients. In this work, we design a novel artificial intelligent-based automated X-ray image analysis framework based on an ensemble of deep optimized convolutional neural networks (CNNs) in order to distinguish coronavirus patients from non-patients. By developing a modified version of gaining–sharing knowledge (GSK) optimization algorithm using the Opposition-based learning (OBL) and Cauchy mutation operators, the architectures of the deployed deep CNNs are optimized automatically without performing the general trial and error procedures. After obtaining the optimized CNNs, it is also very critical to identify how to decrease the number of ensemble deep CNN classifiers to ensure the classification effectiveness. To this end, a selective ensemble approach is proposed for COVID-19 X-ray based image classification using a deep Q network that combines reinforcement learning (RL) with the optimized CNNs. This approach increases the model performance in particular and therefore decreases the ensemble size of classifiers. The experimental results show that the proposed deep RL optimized ensemble approach has an excellent performance over two popular X-ray image based COVID-19 datasets. Our proposed advanced algorithm can accurately identify the COVID-19 patients from the normal individuals with a significant accuracy of 0.991441, precision of 0.993568, recall (sensitivity) of 0.981445, F-measure of 0.989666 and AUC of 0.990337 for Kaggle dataset as well as an excellent accuracy of 0.987742, precision of 0.984334, recall (sensitivity) of 0.989123, F-measure of 0.984939 and AUC of 0.988466 for Mendely dataset.