When Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus last week, Marya Sherron and her parents were gathered in their home state of Michigan to mark what would have been their brother and son’s 49th birthday. Sherron’s brother, Kious Kelly, was a nurse in New York who died of Covid-19 in March, and the family was still deep in grief.
Then Trump tweeted something outrageous about the virus: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
When Sherron read those comments, “It physically hurt,” she said. “It feels like he’s calling those that died like losers, like they were too weak to combat it.”
Trump’s words have drawn condemnation across the country from survivors of the virus and those, like Sherron, who have lost loved ones to the disease.
The president’s tweet came after nearly 210,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 and more than 7 million have been infected. For months, Trump has downplayed the virus and ignored public health guidelines by hosting large indoor gatherings and refusing to wear a mask.
Amanda Kloots, whose husband, the actor Nick Cordero, died in July, called Trump’s comments “disgraceful”.
“I cried next to my husband for 95 days watching what Covid did to the person I love. It IS something to be afraid of. After you see the person you love the most die from this disease you would never say what this tweet says,” she posted to her 618,000 Instagram followers.
Kristin Urquiza, whose father Mark had supported Trump in 2016 and died of the virus in June, described Trump’s tweet as a “betrayal” of her father’s memory.
In an op-ed, she wrote that she had hoped Trump would somehow experience a change of heart after becoming infected with the virus himself. “The tweet showed that he cares nothing about the suffering of families like mine and those who are going to continue to be scarred by the disease – all without acknowledging that he inhabits a health care reality provided to no one else on Earth.”
Tsion Firew, an emergency room doctor in New York, who has lost three colleagues since March and became infected herself after treating sick patients, said, “I’m just so sad that those frontline providers, like my three colleagues who died from Covid, that their lives were lost in vain. And he’s just insulted their sacrifice.”
She said the president’s tweets were not only offensive – they were also dangerous. “He rushed to try to normalize” the virus, she said, even as it was clear to medical professionals that he was struggling to breathe when he appeared in public on Monday. “So he is trying to downplay it while he’s still suffering from the disease – and he’s not out of the woods,” she said.
Sherron, Kious Kelly’s sister, said learning of Trump’s diagnosis dredged up a wave of complicated feelings. She believes that if the White House had acted sooner to alert hospitals to the severity of the virus, many healthcare workers like her brother might have been spared. And yet she wouldn’t wish Covid-19 on anyone. “We’re still angry and hurt, but we found it within our hearts to pray from him,” she said.
Kelly was like a “warrior” for his courage and willingness to sacrifice himself to treat sick patients early on in the pandemic, Sherron said.
After spending what would have been Kelly’s 49th birthday in Michigan, Sherron returned to Indiana, where she lives with her husband and son. She prays her mother doesn’t read the president’s tweets and said she imagines what she might say to Trump, given the chance:
“Mr President, you are blessed with medication that many Americans – if any – have not received, and you had top-notch care. That doesn’t make you strong. What if everyone else were given that care? How many people would have survived?”