Americans across the country greeted Friday’s news that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid-19 with reactions ranging from wishes for a speedy recovery to the hope that the experience would change Trump’s public messaging — and many said they believed that the diagnosis wouldn’t alter voters’ decisions on Election Day.
“First, I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody. But nobody is above reproach, above the law, or above the coronavirus,” Todd Wright, 55, said outside of a Starbucks in Maplewood, N.J.
Wright, who criticized Trump for frequently not wearing a mask and downplaying the dangers of the virus, said the president now “has to send another message to the American public that you have to be careful and to follow science, and what the experts say.”
Some said they weren’t surprised the president had contracted the virus, given the White House’s flouting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, including against holding large indoor rallies and events.
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In Democratic-leaning Philadelphia — where “bad things happen,” Trump said in Tuesday night’s debate, referring to a claim that poll watchers had been denied access there — Pete Mecchi said, “I certainly wish that he recovers — but I want him to lose the election.”
Mecchi, who was wearing a mask, said he thinks Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been “lacking,” including his mixed messaging on masks.
“Obviously the mask issue is a big issue, and hopefully maybe some of his supporters will change their mind now,” he said.
Another Philadelphian, Kim Robinson, said he’d lost a cousin to Covid-19 and blamed the administration’s “arrogance” for not doing more to rein in the virus. “As Malcolm X once said, ‘Your chicken’s coming home to roost.’ You know, you let this out and now it’s coming back to bite you. So hopefully it’s a wake-up call for all of you.”
In Bath, Pennsylvania, Trump supporter Christine Pheney, 65, said that the diagnosis shows Trump is “human too,” and that she expects he’ll now treat the pandemic as more of an ongoing threat.
“I think now he’s going to take it more seriously, knowing that it could affect him and his family,” Pheney said. “He’s really going to put his foot down, now that it’s his family.”
But in Oakland, California, Allison Royal, 35, a medical records clerk, disagreed.
“Once he finishes isolating, I don’t think it’s going to change anything for him,” she said. “I was waiting for him to get it, personally, because it seemed like a joke for him. He didn’t take it seriously at all.”
In Texas, Leonor Quiroz, 47, a payroll specialist and Trump supporter in the Houston area, said she was shocked when she read the news on her phone. She and her husband, Valentine, 52, were both hospitalized with Covid-19 in May, and Valentine later died.
Trump, she said, has “got all these health people around him and everything protecting him, and he still got it.” It “just proves it doesn’t matter how much power you have. If you’re gonna get it, you’re gonna get it,” she added.
Prior to her illness, Quiroz said many in her family believed the coronavirus was a hoax. She believes Trump’s infection will lead more people to take the virus seriously. “You’re going to have a lot of people changing their opinions about Covid now,” she said.
With Election Day just a month away, some said that while Trump’s diagnosis may change people’s minds about Covid-19, they didn’t think it would change their votes.
Tamia Bragg, 43, of Flint, Michigan, says Trump was the first Republican she had ever voted for, and she plans to vote for him again — even though she thinks he’s lying about testing positive.
Tamia Bragg, 43, of Flint, Mich. (Erin Einhorn / NBC News)
“I don’t believe that. I really don’t. I do think that Trump likes to play some games, you know with the public and stuff, with the country,” she said, adding that one way or another, it “doesn’t have anything to do with the election.”
Asked why Trump would invent a Covid-19 diagnosis, Bragg replied: “He said a lot of stuff that wasn’t true. He just likes to play like that.”
Jamal Clifton, 27, a Las Vegas resident who didn’t vote in 2016, said Trump’s combative debate performance on Tuesday night had made him consider supporting former Vice President Joe Biden, because he seems more professional.
“I’m just not that surprised” that Trump contracted the virus, Clifton said, because he “didn’t seem like that responsible of a guy.”
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At the Hasselbring Senior Center in Flint, seniors said they doubted Trump’s illness would change the shape of the election.
Thelma Byers, 79, said Trump’s base “may have sympathy for him,” but “they’ve been in his corner all the time anyway.”
Byers, who was hospitalized with the virus in March and April and says she’s still recovering, blamed the president for the country’s high infection and mortality rate.
“I just feel like if you’re leading the country, and you’re responsible for everybody’s life and safety, you know, you just set a very bad example,” she said. “He should’ve been wearing a mask before anybody, but he wanted to show his base that he’s so bad and he’s so this that ‘no, I don’t have to wear a mask.’”