News that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus shook America and the world in the wee hours of Friday morning.

The reality was unsettling for multiple reasons. Foremost is the concern for the president and his wife, now among the latest of 7,213,419 Americans to be infected with COVID-19, the viral ailment that mushroomed into a pandemic last winter. The country is pulling for the president and first lady to join the ranks of those who have recovered fully and quickly.

Even amid a presidential election season that has divided the nation, our common humanity and empathy must prevail. The United States needs its incumbent leader healthy and strong through the year’s closing months. The federal government faces important issues this fall, topped by the handling of the pandemic response and its consequences on Americans’ health and livelihoods.

The revelation that the Trumps tested positive — disclosed by the president himself in, characteristically, a 12:54 a.m. tweet — also jolted Americans because of his cavalier approach to the coronavirus. The president has admittedly downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, dismissed the value of wearing face masks to prevent spreading the disease to others, and continues to conduct rallies before crowds that are not masked up or socially distanced. Trump’s ridicule of Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden’s persistent mask wearing works against public health experts’ pleas for people to cover their faces.

COVID-19 has changed the minds of many who have contracted it, though. Survivors, who once shunned masks and distancing, tell compelling stories of their struggles to recover and now urge others to heed the advice of the doctors and scientists.

Ideally, the president will rapidly and fully shed a mild case of the virus, along with Melania and others within his circles. Likewise, let us hope the experience prompts him to no longer view COVID-19 as a political problem and to respect the counsel of reputable public health officials and agencies that are working to protect average citizens coast to coast. That epiphany should also stir the president to re-engage with the World Health Organization, a vital coalition in the pandemic fight. Trump pulled the U.S. from the WHO earlier this year, scapegoating the imperfect yet necessary multinational organization.

As the nation has learned in 2020, a pandemic does not remain confined to one country. Until coronavirus is controlled abroad, the “normal” lifestyles Americans now long for — including freely traveling the country and globe for work or pleasure — will remain on hold. The quest for a vaccine is ongoing in multiple countries and the discovery of the right one and a system to distribute it — most likely sometime in 2021 — could benefit people of every nationality.

The president’s brush with COVID-19 can also impact state and local strategies. If he embraces a more realistic outlook on the virus, the political pressure will decrease on governors to prematurely throttle up their state economies and hustle young people back to school and college for in-person classes.

This highly contagious virus is unaffected by the election in the U.S. People in India and other parts of Asia, Latin America and Europe, where cases continue to rise, have no logical reason to expect the virus to somehow vanish on Nov. 4, the day after Americans finish voting.

COVID-19 is a legitimate health crisis — the worst in a century. Since just March, it has taken the lives of 206,402 Americans, including 3,429 in Indiana and 8,696 in Illinois. Autumn has the potential for more illness and heartache. Doctor Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, urged people to not back off public health protocols and instead “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy.”

Ten days into the fall season, the president announced he and Melania have tested positive. This disease is serious. America’s approach to it must be equally serious.

The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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