A few hours before President Donald Trump declared a personal victory over COVID-19, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff stood in downtown Atlanta with a small group of socially distanced and mask-wearing supporters.
While Georgia Republicans have kept busy itineraries filled with indoor rallies before closely packed crowds for months, many state Democratic candidates have only just begun to return to the campaign trail. And Ossoff, challenging U.S. Sen. David Perdue, wanted to make sure a message was clear.
“We would love to be out there knocking on doors and getting out the vote and holding rallies,” he said. “But we’re in a pandemic and hundreds of thousands have died. And I’m just shocked that it’s not obvious to everybody running for office now that when so many are losing their lives we shouldn’t be taking risks.”
Top Georgia Republicans had a different takeaway, celebrating Trump’s announcement that he would leave the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after three days of treatment even as a West Wing outbreak grew and his physician warned he was not “out of the woods yet.”
“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” the president said in a tweet, adding: “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” The message downplayed a virus that’s killed more than 209,000 people in the U.S. and has posed a direct threat to Trump’s reelection bid.
“COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has raced to demonstrate her support for the president ahead of a messy 21-candidate special election. Her post included a video of Trump battering an image of the virus in a wrestling ring.
Trump was eager to put the drama around his coronavirus diagnosis behind him, though more revelations on Monday made that difficult. His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, revealed she had tested positive for the virus, as did two more members of the president’s press team.
Both Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue reported they tested negative on Friday for COVID-19 after coming into contact over the previous 10 days with Trump, though symptoms and positive results can sometimes take days to appear after exposure. Gov. Brian Kemp also tested negative on Wednesday ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit.
Democrats were mystified by Trump’s assertion. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic front-runner challenging Loeffler in November, said through a campaign spokesman that he hopes Trump is “listening to his doctors and doing everything he can to keep himself healthy and others safe.”
“We must take this deadly virus seriously," the spokesman said, “and listen to the medical experts.”