ANOTHER VIEW: President's coronavirus results show nobody is immune

Northwest Florida Daily News

The news broke, as it so often does, through President Donald Trump’s Twitter account: 

For those who were still awake at 1 a.m., it was a bombshell. As more Americans learned of the diagnosis, the Internet exploded into a frenzy of reaction, with messages of sympathy and hopes for a speedy recovery jostling against conspiracy theories, rampant speculation about the impact on the upcoming presidential election and gloating jibes, some of which were downright cruel.

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Let’s get one thing straight: Nobody deserves to contract a dangerous, potentially fatal illness, and that includes President Trump and the first lady. Trump is our elected head of state and a larger-than-life figure. It’s easy to forget that he is human like the rest of us, with family and friends who love him and are frightened for his safety, along with millions of supporters flooding social media with pledges of prayer and moral support. They are well aware that his age puts him in a high-risk group.

A sign on the fence at the entrance to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Monday morning. President Donald Trump was admitted to the hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

So far, fortunately, he has shown only mild symptoms, and is home after a brief hospitalization as a precaution. If the hopes and prayers of a nation are answered, he and the first lady will quickly recover.

As the president and Melania Trump convalesce, there are important truths about this pandemic that must be emphasized. First, the president’s illness illustrates that the coronavirus threat is far from over, a lesson that other leaders should heed. The president and first lady live and travel in a highly protected bubble, coming in close proximity with only a few, supposedly well-screened individuals. If they can become infected  – reportedly, through exposure to top aide Hope Hicks, who tested positive Thursday  – it should be clear that everyone is still vulnerable.

Next, the president’s illness demonstrates the importance of leadership by example. Again, nobody should blame the president for getting sick. But Trump repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic; he rarely wore a mask and was openly skeptical of his own scientific advisors’ recommendations on social distancing and the need to avoid crowded gatherings. He even mocked Democratic rival Joe Biden for mask-wearing at their first (and likely only) debate Tuesday.

His words carried weight. At his rallies  – such as one held last week in Jacksonville  – thousands of supporters showed up and crammed together, many unmasked and defiant of public-health guidelines.

In light of the president’s illness, we urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to rethink his efforts to stampede Florida’s economy into a full reopening, including his permission for restaurants and bars to open at 100 percent capacity. Certainly, he should withdraw the heavy-handed preemption of cities and counties that choose to protect their residents by enforcing face-covering ordinances with fines and other penalties.

President Trump’s illness illustrates, with crystal clarity, how critical it is that everyone take the pandemic seriously. This is not a matter of politics, and never should have been. It is a matter of life and death. And nobody  – not even the president  – is safe.

Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board