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All eyes have been on President Donald Trump as he battles COVID-19, the disease he has spent most of this year downplaying as hundreds of thousands of people died on his watch. But even while he’s infected with the highly contagious virus, the president continues to gaslight a traumatised America by minimising the pandemic.
On Monday, Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center despite still being infected with the coronavirus. He was admitted to the hospital in Maryland on Friday just hours after revealing that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the virus, but White House physicians have not been transparent about the president’s health in daily press conferences.
“Feeling really good!” Trump tweeted. “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Trump’s tweet not only implied that those who die of COVID-19 are weak but also suggested that the American people should not fear a virus that has already infected almost 7.5 million and killed about 210,000 people in the United States this year — in part due to the president’s own dangerous rhetoric and botched response to the pandemic.
Most COVID-19 victims have died alone due to safety precautions, leaving loved ones to navigate an already difficult mourning process, and those who survive the illness often deal with long-term health issues.
“My dad loved to talk and I miss talking to him,” said Brian Walter, an essential transit worker in New York whose father died from the virus, in a statement for the grassroots network COVID Survivors for Change. “To hear Trump say that people shouldn’t fear this virus hurts. It makes me worry for all the families who will still experience the loss of a loved one because our president refuses to take this pandemic seriously.”
As Trump diminishes the virus and boasts about drug development, he is also receiving top-notch medical care and treatments out of the reach of many Americans. The president had a taxpayer-funded helicopter take him to his own secluded ward of a world-class hospital, where a team of dedicated doctors exclusively monitored him around the clock, providing him pricey experimental treatments not yet available to the public free of charge.
“Don’t be afraid, says the guy with a team of a dozen doctors, access to experimental treatments that no one else gets, a four room hospital suite, who lives in a house with top doctors on site 24/7,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), noting reports showing that Trump paid little or no federal income tax in recent years. “All of which is provided to him for free because he refuses to pay taxes.”
Meanwhile, everyday Americans face rising medical bills for COVID-19 treatment and hospital stays. Some people early in the pandemic could not even receive a coronavirus test unless they met certain criteria, let alone hospital admission with even stricter requirements. And with the president and Republicans pushing for the Supreme Court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, COVID-19 could become a preexisting condition not covered by insurance.
Reporters asked White House physician Sean Conley, who is overseeing Trump’s care, about the president’s tweet at a news conference on Monday afternoon. Conley said he’s “not going to get into what the president says,” and noted that Trump was not “out of the woods yet” in his fight against the virus.
Trump released a video from Walter Reed on Sunday ― the same day Conley revealed the president’s blood oxygen levels have dropped below 95% at least twice ― claiming he’d learned a lot about the virus.
“I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school,” he said. “This isn’t the ‘let’s read the books’ school. I get it. And I understand it. It’s a very interesting thing.”
But Trump either doesn’t understand the severity of the virus or doesn’t care that it has plagued the country and killed 210,000 people.
“As a nurse in New York City, I watched as medical teams fought like hell to save patients from COVID-19. All too often, this deadly and ferocious virus won,” said Liza Billings, another member of the survivors’ network who lost her brother to the virus, in a statement.
“To see the president tell his followers not to fear COVID is a slap in the face to all of those who lost a loved one to COVID-19, as well as all of us who put our lives on the line to save others. It’s a callous and dangerous remark that will do nothing to stop this horrifying pandemic, and may even make it worse,” she added.
Trump has repeatedly tried to deflect responsibility during the pandemic. He blamed China and Democrats for the virus, called on states with lockdowns to be “liberated,” mocked the wearing of masks, promoted dangerous chemicals as miracle cures, publicly undercut his own medical advisers, failed to create a national testing strategy, forced states to make major decisions that should have been made at the federal level, and hardly played a role in negotiations over relief legislation.
But since contracting COVID-19, the president has only continued promoting dangerous behavior and putting people’s lives at risk. Heading back to the White House while he’s still sick and telling the American public not to be afraid of the coronavirus are just the latest examples of that.
On Sunday, immediately after bragging about how well he understood the virus, Trump surprised his supporters outside Walter Reed by taking a drive in the presidential motorcade to thank them for their well-wishes ― putting Secret Service agents and drivers at risk of contracting the virus.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” tweeted Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
The president is effectively a superspreader, as contact tracing pins clusters of recent positive cases on events that Trump attended ― including the September 26 Supreme Court nomination ceremony at the Rose Garden, the first presidential debate on Tuesday, a private fundraiser and campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday and a large fundraiser at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey on Thursday. Swaths of Republicans continue to reveal that they’ve tested positive for the virus after ignoring safety protocols when meeting with Trump’s inner circle.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus appears to be spreading through the White House. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced on Monday that she had contracted the virus, as have two of her deputies. According to The New York Times, two staff members who worked for the White House housekeeping department also tested positive and were told to use “discretion” in discussing their cases.
Trump’s return to the White House while still very sick will only make the country’s COVID-19 numbers climb, and we should be very afraid of it.