Americans React To Trump's 'Do Not Fear' COVID-19 Message : Consider This from NPR President Trump told the country Tuesday: "Don't be afraid of COVID. Don't let it dominate your life." This was in a video published after the president's return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. During his nearly 72-hour stay, Trump received care from top doctors and experimental treatments that are not readily available to the millions of Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Marshall Hatch, a pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Church in Chicago, lost his sister to COVID-19 and says the president's message feels like an insult for families grieving in the wake of this disease.

While the vast majority of Americans don't have access to the kind of care that the president received, it's not the only example of how the pandemic is having disproportionate effects on certain groups. California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly explains a new state rule that will tie re-opening plans to improvements in its hardest-hit communities.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

President Trump's COVID-19 Treatment Reveals Unequal Burden Of The Disease

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/920314128/920877438" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's not quite an ad or an official White House announcement. There aren't even words - just this music and the image of Marine One touching down on the South Lawn of the White House in golden-hour light. President Trump tweeted the video just hours after he was released from the hospital. In it, he steps out of the helicopter behind a masked Marine. Trump, also wearing a mask, walks up the stairs leading up to the White House balcony. Then, pausing at the top, the president takes off his mask, stuffs it into his pocket and gives a thumbs-up and a salute.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just left Walter Reed Medical Center, and it's really something very special - the doctors, the nurses, the first responders...

CORNISH: In another video that followed his return from hospitalization, Trump sent this message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And one thing that's for certain - don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're going to beat it. We have the best...

CORNISH: Even though he will keep getting medical care at the White House, even though his doctors say he's, quote, "not out of the woods yet" - but in the video, Trump is all positivity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Get out there. Be careful. We have the best medicines in the world. And it all happened very shortly. And they're all getting approved. And the vaccines are coming momentarily. Thank you very much. And Walter Reed - what a group of people. Thank you very much.

CORNISH: In the period since the president tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday, the country is on pace to record another 200,000 cases of infection with the virus. That brings the total to about 7.5 million cases nationwide.

CONSIDER THIS. When Donald Trump gets coronavirus, he gets flown by helicopter to a world-class hospital with top doctors and experimental treatments. Most Americans don't. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, October 6.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. As President Trump recovers from the coronavirus in the White House, cases here in the U.S. are ticking up - about 40,000 new cases every day, a lot lower than the peak back in late July. But over the last few weeks, it started to trend upward. There are students back in school. Some people are going back to the office. And cold weather is rolling in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JAMIL MADI: The coronavirus is still around. It's still with us.

CORNISH: Dr. Jamil Madi sees it firsthand. He's the ICU medical director at the hospital in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas where he experienced what he called a tsunami of COVID patients this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MADI: We are in a much, much better place right now than we were a few months ago. But we still are getting cases. We still are getting infected people and people being admitted to the hospital. The virus is still here, and it's not going away.

CORNISH: He listened to Trump's comments last night, and he says he understands why Trump is speaking the way he is to the public.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MADI: But at the same time, we also have to sympathize with the tragedies that have occurred in the past, including the deaths of over 200,000 people and the people that have been impacted by that. Remember that for every person that has succumbed to the disease, there might be another 50 or a hundred people who know that person who have been traumatized or been affected by the disease. So we're talking about millions of people who have been affected in one way or the other from this disease.

CORNISH: The president says, quote, "Don't be afraid of COVID. Don't let it dominate your life." Dr. Madi's message is a little different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MADI: We definitely need to respect it. We definitely need to be cautious.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Marshall Hatch is the pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Church on the West Side of Chicago. We first spoke to him in the spring after his older sister Rhoda Jean Hatch died of COVID-19. Today, he told my colleague Ailsa Chang about how the president's message - don't let it dominate your life - sounded to him and his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARSHALL HATCH: We are still grieving and - over the loss of my sister and grieving along with over 200,000 other Americans. And we, of course, thought that that attitude that we saw - it just looked very insensitive, almost insulting to us. I mean, we're still in pain and in mourning. We want the - no other family to experience what we're experiencing. And we want our pain and our grief and our sister's memory to be taken seriously. Her life mattered.

AILSA CHANG: Are you worried that there are people in your community who will actually believe the president's message - this idea that you should not be afraid of COVID - when you and your family personally know how dangerous COVID can be?

HATCH: Well, you know, I think that people in our community - I mean, there's some sense of being appalled at the president, quite frankly. I think many of us suspected that when the narrative of COVID-19 began to be concentrated in the Black community as sort of like a Black and brown and poor people or old people's disease, I think we were afraid that the country would simply move on and just kind of deem certain people as expendable. And we want to keep communicating that the people in our community are not expendable.

CHANG: Well, for the people in your congregation who are, on top of grieving community members that have been lost - are now financially suffering during this pandemic, I'm curious how much of the president's message about getting back to normal life is resonating with them - you know, this idea of doing without social distancing requirements, even though the virus is still spreading. Are people receptive to that message, or is there still a great deal of caution in your community?

HATCH: Well, you know, I just don't think that people in this community think that we can afford to take this president serious. I mean, his experience is so far removed from ours. And then people like my family - quite frankly, we were insulted by the cavalier ways that the president has, you know, talked about this, the virus, and the ways that he's almost, in a boastful sense, expressed how good his care has been when we here on the bottom have much less access to that high quality of health care. I mean, it really is almost obscene to have somebody in that position basically negate the meaning of other people's lives that are suffering here on the bottom. It adds to the tragedy, quite frankly, to have that kind of nonsense coming out of the White House.

CHANG: To hear him talk so casually about the virus, knowing that he's receiving around-the-clock health care, a whole...

HATCH: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Panoply of treatments, some experimental, that a lot of people where you are just don't have access to.

HATCH: And the times that I personally have been to the cemetery over and over and over again - some of it COVID, some of it people's underlying conditions, some of it the kind of violence that comes from this concentrated poverty and the despair - it's so far removed from reality. It's very difficult to take this president seriously.

CHANG: You know, when we talked to you back in April as the pandemic was surging, you had said that just the sheer number of people killed by COVID-19 in Chicago was so staggering...

HATCH: Oh, my God.

CHANG: ...You couldn't even begin to take stock of the loss.

HATCH: It hasn't stopped. I mean, it's nonstop. And it feels every bit of a pandemic at this level and in this community where we will have to see on the other side of this to really look back and calculate what we've lost. I really can't calculate it yet because the losses will keep coming, and it's staggering.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: That's the Reverend Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church on the West Side of Chicago. His sister Rhoda Jean Hatch died from COVID-19 this spring.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: As the reverend just noted, the vast majority of Americans don't have access to the kind of care that the president receives. And that disparity is even greater for Black, Latino and Native communities. All three of those groups have seen higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death than their white neighbors.

Now the state of California is taking action to try to address that. As of Tuesday, the state will implement what it's calling an equity requirement on its 35 largest counties before those counties can enact reopening measures. That means places like Los Angeles have to bring down levels of the virus in the hardest-hit communities before moving into the next phase of reopening. I spoke to California's health secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARK GHALY: For a county to be able to move forward with confidence and success, bringing all of their communities along with reduced transmission, watching all of the case rates, flooding the communities that need testing with that, making sure that we have enough disease investigators and supporting isolation really allow the county as a whole to move forward even sooner and with greater confidence because the disparate levels of transmission within a single county can really lead to problems for the entire county as the level of mixing while we reopen more of our business sectors occurs.

CORNISH: So it's not a lift-all-boats situation. You're saying that it doesn't make sense to reopen further if you don't get the infection rates under control in certain areas.

GHALY: Absolutely. I mean, we know that so many of the communities that have the disproportionate impact are, in fact, the essential workers and the people who travel on public transportation and move into all parts of the community. So really, this is not just a focus on the race and ethnic impacts of COVID but really a strategy to make sure we address transmission in a wise and thoughtful way across our state.

CORNISH: You know, fundamentally, the disparities that made this so hard on Latino communities, Black communities, Native communities have to do with lack of access to health care, distrust of government authorities - right? - and just the need to make a living, people having to work even under the threat of illness. Does this address any of that?

GHALY: Well, we believe that it certainly gives us a greater path to addressing some of it. In the short run, we focus on creating access to testing. We create better, stronger lines of communication between public health officials and those communities, causing us to hire and bring on more bilingual staff that can relate and connect with the target population. So we believe it both focuses on COVID but also gives us a pathway to continue to increase our connection and deepened impact with communities that, on so many health measures, have faced a disproportionate impact of disease and other bad outcomes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: That was Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's health secretary.

IT'S CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.