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NewsHealthCoronavirus

The president's diagnosis: What Long Islanders are saying

Newsday's Steve Langford got Long Islanders' reactions on Friday to the news that President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost; AP

This story was reported by Barbara Barker, Robert Brodsky, Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Anthony M. Destefano, Nicole Fuller, Joan Gralla, Rafer Guzman, Mark Harrington, John Hildebrand, Robert Kessler, Maura McDermott, Bridget Murphy, Keldy Ortiz, Tory N. Parrish, Ted Phillips, Ken Schachter, Craig Schneider, Nicholas Spangler, John Valenti, Scott Vogel, Beth Whitehouse and Dandan Zou. It was written by Brodsky.

Billy Moss, a school administrator from Brentwood, sees President Donald Trump's coronavirus diagnosis as a reminder that the virus remains a "great equalizer" and "does not discriminate."

Joseph Romano, a music teacher and band director at General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown, hopes it serves as a "teachable moment" for New Yorkers who may be getting complacent amid low infection rates.

Across Long Island, people awoke to the stunning news Friday that the president and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly said the country is "rounding the corner" with the virus, which has claimed more than 205,000 American lives. The president rarely wears a mask in public and has hosted large rallies in the run-up to next month's election.

Newsday interviewed dozens of Long Islanders Friday about the impact of Trump’s illness. From MAGA supporters to critics of Trump's policies, they overwhelmingly expressed concern for Trump's health.

"I worry for him. He’s older," said Jennifer Tidridge, a mother of two from of East Islip. "I think eventually we’re all going to get it."

Moss, the co-founder of the Black Long Island Facebook page, pointed out the disease can attack young and old, rich and poor and people of all races and nationalities. "It can take anyone’s freedom … or life," he said. "I hope the president survives it knowing that this pandemic is worth fighting against every day, regardless of politics, until it is defeated."

"The country can’t thrive without a leader," said Sabrina Guo, 14, a Syosset High School sophomore. "Regardless of whether one likes or agrees with our president, for the sake of our country and the world, we wish that he will be OK."

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Others looked for potential positives from Trump's diagnosis.

"Once he’s over the virus it will make him stronger and better," said Matthew Galcik, a retiree in Montauk. "Invincible. It will make him stronger and the country stronger."

Oyster Bay sanitation worker Michael DelColle, a Trump supporter, agrees and said the president overcoming the virus would send a powerful message.

"It’s going to show people that … if somebody in his 70s gets it and beats it, let’s open the country back up," said DelColle, who also owns Del’s Bar & Grill in Oyster Bay. "Small businesses like me are getting killed."

Dr. Michele Reed of Lakeview, who has offices in Garden City and Rosedale, Queens, said she knows what the Trumps could be going through.

In April, Reed quarantined herself for two weeks in the bedroom of her Lakeview home after testing positive for the virus. She kept a video diary of her experience, sharing it with Newsday, with the hope that it would educate others about the disease.

"I went through this and I know what a horrific experience it is," Reed said. "I hope President Trump and his wife have a full recovery. I also hope that it gives him some empathy for what others have gone through and it spreads the message of how important it is to wear a mask and practice social distancing."

Some Long Islanders hoped his illness would make Trump and others begin treating COVID-19 as a more deadly threat, not just something that threatens the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.

"Let’s hope his supporters finally begin to take this pandemic more seriously," said Kerry Gillick-Goldberg, a marketing and public relations professional from Bethpage. "Maybe now, they’ll start to wear masks and stop saying the virus is a hoax or fake news."

Dylan Skolnick, co-director of Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre, added: "Maybe it’ll inspire people to put aside some of the politicization of this and just focus on the actual science."

Rachel Woo, 15, a sophomore from Great Neck South High School, said the pandemic does not dominate conversations the way it did back in March. "But this sort of put the spotlight back on it," she said.

Added Romano, the band teacher: "Maybe if you know a student who is a little casual about using a mask, maybe you can say, ‘look, if it can happen to the president of the United States, it can happen to anyone.’"

Nancy Sinoway, a Port Washington seamstress and mask maker, said it reinforces the need to wear face coverings.

"I think we have a long winter ahead wearing masks," she said. "I’m just going to keep selling masks, and pretty ones."

Many Nassau and Suffolk residents speculated on how Trump's infection will affect the Nov. 3 election against the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"It can go either way," said Hadi Halazun, a cardiologist from Southampton. "It can make him a hero. It can rally his base. If he gets quite sick and recovers, I think people will rally behind him."

But Amanda Greenbaum, a swim teacher from Sag Harbor, said, "Ideally, people realize masks are the way to handle this and we get a new president. I don’t think there’s an in-between."

Shawn Farash, a salesman and supporter of the president from West Babylon, said with Trump quarantined, he and other backers will need to step up their reelection efforts.

"We are the head of the campaign," Farash declared. "We are the spearhead. We’re bringing the heat. We’re bringing the energy. We’re gonna get louder. We’re gonna show him that when he’s down, we’ve got his back."

Over the weekend, Farash will lead a pro-Trump caravan from the Ronkonkoma train station to Times Square, the New York City mayoral residence Gracie Mansion, a stop to donate to a food pantry and then back to Long Island for a law enforcement rally in Hauppauge.

Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy Inc., a Melville investment advisory firm, cautioned that the president’s diagnosis could also affect the markets.

"The health of the leader of the free world is always of a huge concern," Goldberg said. "So, if Trump’s workload lightens up and he is not capable of campaigning, it adds to investor uncertainty."

Some Trump critics said the president's illness was not surprising.

Amy Plympton Fortunato, a Smithtown pastor and Democratic committeewoman, said Trump’s announcement seemed "inevitable."

Trump, she said, was "too frequently without a mask, appearing in public at large events. It just seemed like a petri dish for trouble … the opposite of everything we’ve come to understand about this disease."

Civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, also a Democrat, said Trump "played fast and loose with the health and welfare" of the country as he managed the virus response. "And as a result, people have been placed in jeopardy unnecessarily," he said.

But Brewington also said he would pray for the president, expressing that common theme among the Long Islanders interviewed: Politics aside, they wished Trump a quick recovery.

"I hope he gets better soon," said Alicia Lam of Smithtown. "I don’t need our president being sick — whether or not I love him or hate him, I hope it passes."

CORRECTION: Billy Moss' name mispelled in a previous version of this story.

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