WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s message to Americans to not "be afraid" of COVID-19 and to not let the virus "dominate your life" on the day he was discharged from one of the nation’s top hospitals triggered denunciations from Democrats and coronavirus survivors, while becoming a rallying point for his supporters.
In a Monday tweet and in a video montage produced by the White House following his release from Walter Reed Medical Center, Trump, who continues to carry the coronavirus, said, "Don’t be afraid of COVID-19," a message at odds with his administration’s own top public health officials who have repeatedly described the highly contagious virus as a serious threat.
With a month until Election Day, and as voters have already started mailing in their ballots in several states, the president’s poll numbers against former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden have experienced another dip since he announced his diagnosis in a Friday tweet.
Biden opened a 10-point lead against Trump in a Reuters-Ipsos poll released Sunday. The poll of 1,005 respondents found Biden leading 51% to 41% against Trump. Nearly 65% of those polled said they agreed that "if President Trump had taken coronavirus more seriously, he probably would not have been infected." The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Trump 2020 spokeswoman Erin Perrine, in an interview with Fox News on Monday, argued that the campaign would benefit from Trump’s "first hand" experience battling the disease. But Biden, campaigning in South Florida, told reporters Trump’s message would not sit well with the thousands of Americans who have lost loved ones to the disease.
"Tell that to the 205,000 families that lost somebody," Biden said. As of Tuesday more than 210,000 Americans have died of the disease, and 7.5 million Americans have tested positive.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Trump was not trying to downplay the toll the virus has taken on Americans, but rather was attempting to deliver an "upbeat" message.
"Others may have done it differently, I may have done it differently, but this is his style," said King. "No matter what, he sees his role as the nation's leader to be upbeat and confident. I don't think he means anything disrespectful by it."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s most vocal congressional defenders, said that "as individuals, as Americans, and as a nation, we should all take [the coronavirus] seriously."
"While I agree that it shouldn't dominate our lives to the point that no one's leaving their front door, and are none of our kids in America are going back to school at all, we should continue to take it seriously and try to find the right balance that prioritizes health first and foremost," Zeldin said.
Congressional Democrats were more critical of the president’s message.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose father-in-law succumbed to the disease, said he hoped the president and other lawmakers had not lost sight of the fact that New Yorkers for months had to live with seeing "refrigerator trucks, full of bodies, because the cemeteries and the funeral homes and the morgues could not keep up with the volume."
"I'll be the first one to say that we should be forging ahead with courage and confidence. I'm all for that type of message, but it's got to be matched with some rational precautions … he's doing one part of the equation, but he's not doing the other part of the equation, and as a result, things are out of balance," Suozzi said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) called on Twitter to take the president’s initial tweet down saying it "puts lives at risk."
"The President is directly telling his millions of followers to engage in dangerous behavior while Americans are dying from this virus," Rice said in a statement.
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-St. Albans) said the president has "promoted a culture of skepticism that has exposed countless people to contracting COVID."
"Remember, Americans do not have the luxury of access to the top doctors/ experimental treatments that he's had," Meeks said.