By De Elizabeth
“Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your lives.”
Those were the words of President Donald Trump on Monday, October 5, after spending 72 hours in Walter Reed Hospital where he was treated for coronavirus with a cocktail of drugs hardly any other American would be able to receive. At the time he tweeted his message, over 7.4 million people in the United States. had contracted COVID-19, with more than 210,000 dead. Later, on Wednesday (October 7), Trump released a direct-to-camera video in which he described contracting the virus as a "blessing from God."
In many ways, Trump’s recent diagnosis felt inevitable, like the closing act of some Shakespearean tragedy. Since March, he’s continued to downplay the severity of the virus, promising it will simply “go away,” all while dismissing the importance of masks, despite their proven effectiveness. From the start of the pandemic, lack of proper testing and an undersupply of PPE for health care professionals created an uphill battle, but Trump continued to worsen things by presenting misleading information to the American public, from promoting unproven medical treatments to overhyping an inaccurate vaccine timeline. And while unreliable information is always a concern in the era of social media, according to a recent study from Cornell University, perhaps the largest driver of misinformation regarding the coronavirus has been the president himself.
Even when Trump fell victim to the very virus he’s neglected to manage, he continued to perpetuate the idea that there’s nothing to fear. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Trump composed these particularly insensitive messages from an ornate hospital suite, adorned with a crystal chandelier, a stark contrast to the images of American bodies placed in refrigerated trucks that circulated earlier this year. Nor should it be overlooked that instead of the unproven hydroxychloroquine treatment he previously touted, Trump was treated with an experimental antibody therapy that remains unavailable to most of the general public. But perhaps the most callous of all is Trump’s assertion that COVID-19 shouldn’t dominate our lives, as millions of Americans are currently sick, unemployed, or grieving a loved one.
That’s certainly been the case for Molly*, a 28-year-old writer from Michigan whose grandmother passed away in April after contracting COVID-19 at an assisted care facility. “My granny died alone,” she tells MTV News. “We couldn’t see her. We couldn’t have a funeral. I felt angry, dismissed, sad, worried.”
Because Molly wasn’t able to experience the closure a memorial often brings, she’s felt a lingering and insurmountable grief. “It’s creeping up in painful ways,” she says. “I cry constantly: driving on the freeway, simply waking up in the morning. I’m terrified of who COVID-19 might take next.”
31-year-old writer and MTV News contributor Sara Radin is also mourning the loss of her grandmother, who passed away from COVID-19 complications earlier this year while residing in an assisted living facility in Chicago. “She was sick for a week and then she was gone,” Radin says. She was not able to attend the funeral. “Watching someone you love be buried over Zoom is not something I ever thought I’d experience. It was surreal.”
Not only did Radin lose her grandmother to COVID-19, she also fought the virus herself. The Brooklyn resident was diagnosed with the coronavirus in spring and felt sick for nearly two months. “The worst symptoms for me were the body aches, fatigue, and nausea,” she shares, adding that the pattern of the illness was exceptionally challenging. “Just when I thought I was getting better, the symptoms came back full-throttle. This happened a few times.” While Radin never felt the need to go to the hospital, the psychological toll was immense. “Isolating alone for almost two months while not knowing what was happening to my body...was hard to fathom. I became totally numb.”
Maria Barbieri is another young person who battled COVID-19. The 26-year-old New Jersey resident dealt with her illness, alone, for 33 days, all while fearing she might lose her public relations job after running out of paid sick leave. “I had no instructions or medicine and was fighting high fevers, constant sweating, lack of appetite, body aches, muscle soreness, and migraines,” Barbieri says, noting that she did not seek hospitalization in order to prioritize the needs of elderly or immunocompromised folks, knowing that health care facilities were becoming overcrowded. “I am still experiencing the results of what COVID-19 did to my body.”
It’s understandable that people like Radin and Barbieri were furious to read Trump’s message on Monday, where he bragged that he feels “better than I did 20 years ago” after receiving treatment not readily available to the public with an estimated cost of $100,000 — something that very few people could afford out of pocket. “It's selfish and horribly out of touch,” Barbieri says, to which Radin adds. “It invalidates all the lives we’ve lost and all the people who’ve suffered long-term symptoms.”
Ariel Keys has seen the wrath of the disease play out right before her eyes. The 28-year-old is currently a COVID-19 researcher and contact tracer for the state of Maryland after previously working for a network of hospitals where she coordinated surgeries and other procedures. Her health care career has opened her eyes to the realities of the pandemic, while keeping her isolated from family members out of safety precautions.
“Everyone is at risk,” Keys emphasizes, noting that she’s witnessed patients of all ages and ranges of health. “Trump is foolish. He refuses to grasp the impact this is having on people and their families. And there’s a vast number of citizens walking around completely careless, spouting nationalist ideas while doing nothing to actually care for the people in this country they ‘love so much.’”
It invalidates all the lives we’ve lost and all the people who’ve suffered long-term symptoms.
To be sure, Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the pandemic has directly influenced and emboldened his supporters. A June 2020 study from the Pew Research Center found that the majority of Republicans surveyed believed that the country was “turning a corner” in its fight with the coronavirus, which is right in line with Trump’s ongoing promises that the pandemic is “fading away.” The Pew poll also concluded that Republicans are far more likely to eschew masks than Democrats, as well as attend a crowded party.
In the days and weeks leading up to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the president held indoor campaign rallies in defiance of state and health regulations, where many of the attendees — and the president himself — were maskless. On September 26, dozens of Republicans gathered in the Rose Garden to celebrate Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett — an event that is now widely considered to be a “superspreader,” likely leading to the recent outbreak among GOP lawmakers and White House staffers. The disregard for his own health, as well as the wellbeing of others, continued through last week, when Trump attended a New Jersey fundraiser on Thursday (October 1) despite knowledge of Hope Hicks’s positive COVID-19 test, and thus his own exposure, and it continues to remain unclear when the president first tested positive himself. Even while receiving treatment, Trump left the hospital to take a joyride in a hermetically sealed SUV accompanied by secret service agents, possibly exposing them to the virus. His very first act upon returning to the White House on Monday? Removing his mask.
Trump has routinely shown that he prioritizes only what will benefit him; the coronavirus pandemic only emphasized that fact. In February, he told the American people that COVID-19 would weaken in the warmer months, that it would disappear “like a miracle;” that same month, he told Bob Woodward that the virus was deadlier than the average flu, later revealing in an additional interview that he “wanted to play it down” to avoid creating a panic. He pushed to reopen the economy before experts deemed it safe out of clear political gain; when faced with the growing death toll, all he could muster was: “It is what it is.” And just one day after leaving the hospital, he pulled the plug on all stimulus negotiations in lieu of pushing through his Supreme Court nomination, adding insult to injury for the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet because of his administration’s failures. (Two days later, on October 8, he claimed some negotiations would continue.) Trump’s tweet on Monday was just another display of his lack of leadership, reinforcing the fear many have held all along: he just doesn’t care.
“As a leader of this country, citizens should be able to look to him,” Keys says. “But we can’t. Trump is leaving behind a legacy of destruction, carelessness, and narcissism. History will tell the truth about who he is, and what he’s done to the people of this nation.”
*Last name has been omitted for privacy.