Kara Goucher couldn’t contain her frustration.
Her beloved grandfather lay in a Duluth hospital Monday, gravely ill with COVID-19 when President Donald Trump, returning to the White House from a three-day hospital stay after contracting the virus, tweeted to his followers:
“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
The words hit Goucher, a world-class distance runner and two-time Olympian, like a punch to the gut.
“As my grandfather lies in a bed struggling to take his last breaths due to Covid, I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything more offensive or tone deaf in my life,” she tweeted in response.
For Goucher and other Minnesotans who have suffered through COVID-19 or endured the pain of losing loved ones to the deadly virus, Trump’s words cut deep and were poorly timed, seemingly downplaying the severity of a pandemic that continues to spread.
To date, it’s infected more than 7 million Americans and claimed the lives of more than 210,000, including 2,087 Minnesotans.
“Of course, I wish the president a full recovery, but it was very hurtful to see his tweet,” Goucher said Tuesday in an interview.
Goucher’s 96-year-old grandfather Calvin Haworth helped raise her after her father died in a car crash. Haworth, who ran a restaurant and a video store in the Duluth area, and also worked at WDUL, the local radio station, supported her athletic career, she said. “He really got me into running,” said Goucher, who grew up in Duluth but now lives in Colorado.
She described her grandfather, who died Tuesday, as “an incredible human being” who didn’t deserve to suffer the way he did.
For Mark Anderson, whose father died from COVID-19 in April, Trump’s words, both in tweets and on video, couldn’t have been more insulting.
“It was extremely insensitive to anyone who has lost a family member and had to say their final goodbyes over a phone,” said Anderson, who was in New York where he lives when he learned his father back in Minnesota had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
His father, Judge Steven A. Anderson, who worked in the state’s sprawling Seventh Judicial District in central and northwest Minnesota, died two days after being diagnosed with the virus.
In the months since, Anderson has been forced to mourn quietly and privately because COVID-19 restrictions have kept the family from holding funeral services. When Trump walked up the White House steps Monday night, removed his mask and told people not to let COVID-19 dominate their lives, it was hard for Anderson to stomach.
“That’s easy for him to say,” Anderson said. “He’s off joy riding around the hospital and now he’s back in the White House infecting everybody. … I understand that he has to keep the optics up. He’s dug in too deep.”
‘Reckless and disrespectful’
Lacy Atkinson of Shakopee, a self-described “healthy 37-year-old mom,” said Trump’s comments since leaving the hospital “continue to be reckless and disrespectful.”
She said Tuesday was Day 9 of her battle with COVID — she’s been hospitalized once.
“This is the sickest I’ve ever been. Every single breath is a struggle,” she said via e-mail. “I can’t eat or sleep or communicate.”
Trump’s tweets “were really upsetting to me,” she added. “This is definitely not a virus you want to let your guard down with. As soon as you’re starting to feel a little better, it knocks you down again.”
Kelly Staples of Inver Grove Heights called the president’s message “completely self-serving and it’s insulting.”
Staples, her husband and their three children contracted the virus from friends who were unaware they had been infected. The worst of the symptoms for Staples and her family have passed, she said, but she still suffers headaches and has lost her sense of smell and taste.
As the leader of the country, Staples said, Trump should set a better example.
“You see him on video and he can barely catch his breath,” she said. “But he insists he’s fine, he can’t catch it again so he takes off his mask. But he’s around other people who can.”
‘A better example’
John Stokes of Woodbury spent 22 days in the hospital in April, 12 of them on a ventilator. He said he feels great now and is optimistic medical professionals will turn the corner on the virus.
Trump’s words didn’t bother him, he said.
“He’s such a polarizing figure, he could tell everybody it’s a beautiful, sunny day and half the country would be angry,” Stokes said. “People need to come together instead of blaming each other.”
Still, the seriousness of the illness shouldn’t be downplayed, Stokes said, even as the president and others recover.
“Just because I was OK doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be concerned,” he said. “You’ve got to wear masks, protect people. Why wouldn’t you?”
Jody Ross, who teaches yoga and wears a mask, is proud to know “no one got COVID from me.”
The disease attacked the lining of her stomach, and she still suffers lingering pain six months later, she said.
With hopes that she can help others suffering from the virus, she’s volunteered her plasma to Mayo Clinic in its work to find treatments.
Even if Trump is feeling better just days after being admitted to Walter Reed, the Minnetonka woman said, he needs to set a better example for Americans to follow.
“I am,” she said, “beside myself with his reaction.”
Staff writers Mary Lynn Smith and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.