New Yorkers have little sympathy for Trump's condition

On the streets of Brooklyn, a place where Donald Trump is unpopular at the best of times, people reacted to the news of his positive diagnosis for COVID-19 with a mixture of schadenfreude and disbelief that it will do anything to change how the president views the virus that's killed more than 200,000 Americans.

U.S. president has consistently dismissed severity of COVID-19, which has killed more than 208,000 in U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday in Washington, D.C. He tweeted that he tested positive for the coronavirus early Friday. The White House later said he is experiencing 'mild symptoms' of COVID-19. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

For New Yorkers like Amy Grimm, the best way to describe her feelings about Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis is qualified sympathy.

"I am sympathetic. I wish him and Melania a speedy recovery," Grimm said, pausing for the inevitable "but" that came next.

"But, at the same time — I hate to be this person — but it's him, and he's a terrible person. I feel like, karma, what goes around comes around."

With a hint of disdain, Grimm said: "It is what it is." It's a paraphrase of a phrase Trump used in an August interview in which he referred to the number of dead in the United States from coronavirus.

Trump announced in a tweet early Friday morning that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus and were beginning the quarantine process.

New Yorker Amy Grimm said she wasn't even sure the news of the president's diagnosis was real when she first heard about it. While she wishes him well, Grimm said the president should have taken the virus and measures to prevent its spread more seriously. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

It's not clear where the president contracted the virus. Trump's positive test came after one of his chief aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive Thursday. She experienced symptoms during an event with the president in Minnesota on Wednesday.

A White House official said Trump was experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Friday.

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To date, New York City has logged more than 240,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 19,000 deaths, with another 4,600 listed as probable deaths. New Yorkers know intimately the pain the virus has caused — a pain many feel the president has rarely empathized with.

"I think it's funny that he was against wearing masks and thought everything was fake, fake news, fake news. I guess we got some real news now," said Luciano Suriel as he waited for a bus outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Grimm at first doubted whether the positive test was even real.

Hope Hicks, one of Trump's advisers, walks to Air Force One to depart Washington with Trump and other campaign staff for Minnesota from Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Wednesday. She tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

"At first, I was a little skeptical. I was texting with my dad this morning, and I was saying, 'You know, do you really think he has COVID?'"

Little faith Trump will change

More than 208,000 people in the United States have died from the virus, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University Grimm doubts that contracting the virus will change Trump. 

"I would hope that this would make him and Melania a little more sympathetic to people who have had the virus and whose families have lost loved ones due to the virus. But I have my doubts," she said. 

"I'm a lifelong New Yorker, and we all knew that he was a carnival barker and a clown and obnoxious and did things for publicity. So, I have my doubts."

In recordings by author and veteran journalist Bob Woodward, Trump admitted early in the pandemic that he was playing down the threat of the virus because he did not want to panic the public. He often compares it to the flu and has said many times that it will just go away.

When New Yorker Michael Mack was asked if he thinks having the virus will change how Trump approaches the pandemic, his response was pointed: "Hell, no."

"He's stubborn. He's very obdurate. He doesn't care," Mack said.

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Randall Rasey, a commercial lawyer, also doesn't see the virus influencing Trump's views. 

"I think his view is politically based and not reality based, so I don't think it's going to change anything," he said.

Lindsay Hubert said the president often holds competing views of issues as they relate to others versus how they relate to himself.

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"Like the mail-in voting, he votes by mail, but nobody else should," Hubert said. "His wife is an immigrant. But other people shouldn't be given that opportunity."

Evidence that the president's diagnosis wasn't having a substantive impact on White House protocol came Friday, when a senior official said masks would not be made mandatory at the White House.

The official described facial coverings as a "personal choice," according to the Associated Press.

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More election chaos

Trump's diagnosis comes 32 days before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, adding a new layer of confusion and chaos to an already contentious race.

Trump cancelled a trip to Florida on Friday. With stops upcoming in Wisconsin on Saturday and Arizona on Monday, his campaign announced the events were shifting to virtual platforms or being temporarily postponed.

The Trump campaign has temporarily postponed events involving Trump's children, but Vice-President Mike Pence, who tested negative and was given a clean bill of health by White House doctors Friday, will continue with his schedule.

Brooklyn resident Luciano Suriel says the news of Trump's diagnosis is ironic given the president's contention that the virus isn't serious. He says he doubts Trump will take the pandemic more seriously even now. (Steven D'Souza/CBC News)

At the bus stop in Brooklyn, Suriel said he thinks Trump's diagnosis will hurt his chances of being re-elected.

"He's not going to have as much momentum when he gets out of, what, I think it's two weeks' quarantine? [Democratic candidate former vice-president Joe] Biden better jump on this right now."

But in such an unpredictable election cycle, where views of the president are so deeply entrenched, Hubert said, it's impossible to know what impact this will have. 

"It's so close, who knows? It could do nothing."

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About the Author

Steven D'Souza

CBC News New York

Steven D'Souza is a Gemini-nominated journalist based in New York City. He has reported internationally from the papal conclave in Rome and the World Cup in Brazil, and he spent eight years in Toronto covering stories like the G20 protests and the Rob Ford crack video scandal.

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