Experience is supposed to be the best teacher, but the lessons of Covid-19 are lost on President Donald Trump, according to many people who have lost loved ones to the disease.
That, in a nutshell, was the reaction of several still-grieving Americans a day after Trump was released from the hospital and declared, "Don't be afraid of Covid."
"Don’t let it dominate your life," Trump tweeted. "We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"
Brian Gonzalez, a New Yorker whose father, Jose Hector Gonzalez, languished in a hospital for two months before the coronavirus killed him on May 11, said he was taken aback by Trump's boasting about "feeling really good" and the great medical care he received.
“It is almost poetic that he has it," Gonzalez, who hails from the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan, said of Trump's infection. "But I think he exists in this bubble and doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, how bad this is. As president, he has the best medical care you can find, and I think he’s under the impression that everybody gets the same kind of medical treatment.”
“It is very frustrating that he cannot seem to empathize with anybody,” Gonzalez added.
The elder Gonzalez was a 58-year-old former freedom fighter in El Salvador who became a playwright and sang in numerous choirs in New York and worked for the Oxford University Press, according to his obituary. He was barely breathing in March when he was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, his son said.
“He was in the hospital for a very long time," Gonzalez said of his father. "He had no pre-existing conditions and was healthy, especially when compared to President Trump, who is 74 and very overweight."
"So it just feels so unfair that he (Trump) is released and my father wasn’t," Gonzalez said. "How unlucky my father was. He was just an unlucky person who got it.”
But Gonzalez made clear that he did not wish his father's fate on the president.
“I don’t want him to die,” Gonzalez said of Trump. “You just hope and pray he will someday realize that this pandemic was bigger and more dangerous than he’s been telling everybody.”
That appears unlikely. Trump on Tuesday once again downplayed the Covid-19 danger and undermined public health officials by tweeting out the false claim that the coronavirus was as deadly as the flu.
More than 211,000 people in the United States have died from Covid-19, for which a vaccine is still being tested, the latest NBC News figures show. From 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu, despite there being a vaccine, from October 2019 to April, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Helen Goldlewski Brownfield lost her father, Richard "Rysiek" Godlewski, to the coronavirus in May. Born outside of Vilnius when the Lithuanian capital was part of Poland, he had been among the hundreds of thousands of Poles who were forced out of their homes and deported to Siberia by the Soviets at the start of World War II. He died at age 90, cut off from his family by Covid-19, in a nursing home outside Chicago.
Brownfield said she was aghast that Trump had potentially exposed his Secret Service detail to the virus with Sunday's much-criticized drive-by outside of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
But watching Trump return to the White House and almost immediately strip off his mask angered her anew.
"He's not wearing a mask, and he's still actively contagious," said Brownfield, who lives outside Chicago. "It's so alarming. He doesn't seem to have any empathy for the people who lived through this, for the people who survived this, or for the people who perished."
Marina Aversa, 56, was one of those people who initially did not take the virus seriously because the president said it was nothing to worry about. But then she got sick.
"It is a big deal when you are crawling just to pull yourself up to get some air,” Aversa said. “I would sit there crying and praying to God just to make it to the next day.”
Aversa, of Bellport, New York, said that until she got sick in April, she spent every day with her mother. While Aversa battled Covid-19, her mother called crying every day, upset she couldn't see her daughter and worried she wouldn't get better.
Aversa recovered enough to see her mother on Mother’s Day, just a month before she died. Her death was not related to Covid-19.
Months later, Aversa mourns the time they lost together because of her battle with the coronavirus.
“I saw the president take off his mask today, and it’s like making a mockery of anyone who has this,” she said. “He also had the VIP special, while we did not.”
“How can you sit there and say to people not to worry about it? It’s so ... wrong,” Aversa said. “You’re the president, you’re supposed to care about all of us.”
Though Covid-19 didn't take Jane Edith Wilson's mother, it did take Wilson's chance to be with her when she died this year.
Wilson, 56, couldn't be at her mother 's side because of quarantine restrictions in Iowa, but rather said farewell on Zoom. Her mother was 86.
Wilson knows she is not alone in that experience and says she has at least five friends who have lost their parents to the coronavirus and weren’t able to be by their sides.
“Every time you go on Facebook, you see another person who’s watched someone slip away from afar, but we’re not supposed to let this dominate our lives?” Wilson said, questioning the president's tweet downplaying the coronavirus.
She said she wishes Trump a speedy recovery so that his 14-year-old son, Barron, can grow up with a father.
“It’s the craziest thing in the world to wish the best for somebody who I feel like would step over my dead body,” she said.