It’s been a banner year for chaos.
A global health pandemic. A faltering economy. Social upheaval. Record-breaking heat waves and wildfires.
And now, in the latest destabilizing twist, a commander in chief who has fallen victim to one of the most serious health threats faced by a sitting U.S. president in modern history.
“If you didn’t think 2020 couldn’t get any more crazy, here we are,” said Nick Dokoozlian, a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder who is pursuing his studies remotely from his native Modesto because of the pandemic.
Dokoozlian had just finished watching Thursday Night Football and had turned his attention to baseball when an alert popped up on his phone that President Trump and the first lady had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Shocked, he immediately called his mother to share the news.
“This just reinforces that we need to continue to wear masks and be vigilant at all times,” he said. “In California, things are starting to open back up a little bit, but we still need to be cautious. This can really hit anyone.”
Dokoozlian, 21, who is a state captain for the organization Gen Z GOP, said that he prays the president and First Lady Melania Trump — and all others affected — recover from the virus.
“I’m really hoping people don’t start to point fingers right now,” he said. “You can question the president’s handling of coronavirus, but we need to rally behind him and everyone else infected.”
About 300 miles south in Los Angeles, much of the public reaction was less charitable. Many people pointed out that before contracting the virus, Trump repeatedly downplayed its severity and mocked precautions to slow its spread.
Suzie Salinas, 54, of Bell recalled that just days ago, during the presidential debate, Trump poked fun at Democratic candidate Joe Biden for wearing masks frequently.
“That’s what he gets for making fun of people,” said Salinas, who was wearing a mask and carrying a fresh box of disinfecting wipes as she exited a Target in East Los Angeles.
She said she’s disappointed that while Latinos in East and Southeast L.A. have been hit hard despite doing their best to stay healthy, the country’s leader didn’t set an example.
“We’re following [the rules], how come he can’t. He’s not special. He’s a human being like everybody else. We bleed the same color.
“You don’t see him going to buy Clorox wipes.”
Jonathan Diaz, a 23-year-old Army veteran, shared similar sentiments.
“I’m not saying I’m happy he got it,” Diaz said. “I’m sure now he sees this is not a joke.”
The East L.A. resident has taken the virus seriously since returning from a deployment in South Korea a couple of months ago. One of his family members at one point was hospitalized with COVID-19 and declared dead — but miraculously recovered.
But Diaz watched the president dismiss the virus repeatedly and didn’t see him wear a mask during news conferences and other appearances.
“It’s kind of ironic,” he said. “You could tell he didn’t believe in it and he was careless on his part.”
Maricela González goes to sleep early and wakes up early to arrive at her spot on César Chávez Avenue at 5 a.m.
Her TV doesn’t work, and her son has the family’s only cellphone. So she didn’t hear the news that the president was sick with COVID-19 until Friday morning at her selling post, full of children’s clothing, religious figurines and other trinkets.
She wasn’t particularly surprised. She just sighed tiredly: “Things are happening that I’ve never seen in my life.”
An undocumented immigrant, González cannot vote. If she had the choice, the president’s diagnosis might push her to give up street vending, because she comes in contact with so many people and it’s risky. But it’s her only way to make a living, she said.
“I have a lot of problems in my life, but I have faith in God,” she said. “For us, the poor, all we have is to have faith in God.”
As for other, more privileged residents, she prays that they will use their power and go out to vote in November.
“And don’t vote for Trump,” she said with a laugh.
Caesar Benitez, 61, was selling aguas frescas on Whittier Boulevard on Friday morning when a friend told him the news. He said he hopes the president recovers and comes out of the sickness a changed man — but he doubts that will happen.
“I don’t wish bad things for anyone,” Benitez said. “I can say that I hope this will help him be more conscious of the reality people are living and that he puts himself in their shoes.”
He said he thinks Trump has been childish in his handling of the pandemic and has sought to minimize the threat, going as far as suggesting fewer tests would improve the situation. “It’s like trying to cover the sun with a single finger,” Benitez said.
Some healthcare professionals and aid workers said they were not surprised that the president contracted the virus because he has eschewed masks and social distancing while traveling extensively for his campaign.
“I wish I could say that I am shocked,” said Dr. Jamie Taylor, an intensive care doctor who played a major role opening the Los Angeles Surge Hospital at the former St. Vincent Medical center during the early days of the pandemic. “But of course, this was entirely predictable, and it is infuriating.”
Throughout the crisis, the president has not followed CDC guidelines, which ripples down to front-line healthcare workers who risk their lives every day to combat this virus. “Not to mention the countless number of people who have been affected by the conditions of the pandemic,”…
Alex Wigglesworth, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Sarah Parvini, Andrew J. Campa, Hailey Branson-Potts, Anh Do
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