Defiant as ever about the coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Monday turned his first campaign rally since contracting COVID-19 into a full-throated defense of his handling of the pandemic that has killed 215,000 Americans, joking that he was healthy enough to plunge into the crowd and give voters “a big fat kiss.”
There was no social distancing and mask-wearing was spotty among the thousands who came to see Trump’s return to Florida. He held forth for an hour, trying to get his struggling campaign back on track with just weeks left before Election Day.
Though he was hospitalized battling the virus only a week ago, Trump’s message on COVID-19 was unaltered since his diagnosis: a dubious assessment that the pandemic was just about a thing of the past. Hundreds of people in the U.S. continue to die of the virus every day.
“Under my leadership, we’re delivering a safe vaccine and a rapid recovery like no one can even believe,” Trump insisted. “If you look at our upward path, no country in the world has recovered the way we have recovered.”
His voice was perhaps a touch scratchy but otherwise, Trump was, well, Trump.
Boisterous and bellicose, he thanked the audience for their well-wishes and declared he was no longer contagious as he embarked on a frenetic final stretch of the campaign.
Trump insisted that, after being given experimental medication and other VIP treatment, he felt great and was glad he no longer needs to be concerned about infection because he’s now “immune.”
“I feel so powerful,” said Trump, displaying no obvious signs of lingering infection. “I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women … everybody. I’ll just give ya a big fat kiss.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Monday on CNN that those who recover from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for a limited period of time, but there are cases emerging of people getting reinfected weeks or months later.
Trump’s decision to so quickly return to the campaign trail drew criticism from Biden and other Democrats.
“President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behavior, divisive rhetoric, and fear mongering,” Biden said in a statement. “But, equally dangerous is what he fails to bring: no plan to get this virus that has taken the lives of over 15,000 Floridians under control.”